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How can I redirect my mother away from making sexual comments?

Answered by David Troxel

June 3, 2015

My aunt has moderate Alzheimer’s and resides in a care facility. Whenever I visit her, she seems to constantly be making sexual comments at the staff workers -- asking them to turn around so she can see their butts, asking them to sleep with her, even trying to grope them. And for some reason, she only does it to the women, when I have never known her to be attracted to women before. Why might she be doing this? I know reduced inhibition comes with the disease, but I feel terrible for the poor nurses. Is there any way to positively redirect her?

Hi Laura,

You are absolutely right that persons with dementia sometimes become disinhibited. They can also have difficulty identifying gender differences. My mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2012, would sometimes point out a staff person and ask me if it was a man or woman.

But with your mother exhibiting this new behavior toward women I think the key is not in your mother’s actions, it’s in the staff’s reactions. Hopefully they are well trained to recognize your aunt’s diagnosis. I always recommend staff take away the drama when it comes to sexual behavior (whether aimed at men or women or both), offer a calm response, and don’t judge or escalate.

It doesn’t work to ask your aunt to stop, argue with her, or shame her.

I would work on a good “script” for staff to use for their response. “Mrs. Jones, I’m staff here. I have to keep it professional,” or something like this [hopefully delivered with a smile and calm voice].

You can also use her life story to redirect her – ask her about a favorite subject, place or past work or even remind her of her past or current relationships.

As a family member, it also goes a long way to thank the staff in advance for their patience and understanding. Paint a rich picture of your aunt’s past achievements and interests.

Best wishes. Hope these ideas are helpful.

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