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How to Respond When Dad Loses His “Filter”

As seniors age, they may experience cognitive decline, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with dementia. This aging brain behavior may cause Dad to “lose his filter” when it comes to voicing his thoughts. You may notice that he’s beginning to share inappropriate stories, use profanity or reveal uncomfortable truths.

Here’s what may be happening: During the normal aging process, our brains slowly shrink, both in volume and weight. This can disrupt the functioning of the frontal lobes, the brain’s “control center” for essential activities and tasks. This reduced functionality can impact inhibitions and allow unwanted thoughts or inappropriate behaviors to emerge. If dementia or another memory impairment is also present, the two sides of the brain may not be communicating correctly. The left hemisphere, which typically houses the language area, may be unable to supply the words Dad is seeking. Instead, the brain may default to words that are stored in the right hemisphere; these may be words that are uncommon, rarely used or even “forbidden” as part of normal conversation.

If your dad does have an unexpected outburst, here’s how to respond:

1. Take a deep breath

If Dad says something hurtful or rude, take a deep breath and try to delay your response to the words until you’ve calmed down. Walk into the other room, take a break or think of something positive. Try not to reply with anger, as you could escalate the situation.

2. Respond gently

Tell Dad that his words are not appropriate, and apologize to onlookers or to whomever the comment was directed. When you respond, think about what Dad would want you to do. If he always treated difficult situations with humor, try to respond using humor to lighten the mood. If he would have been mortified by his outburst as a younger man, issue a response that’s sincere and in keeping with how he’s lived his life.

3. Use distraction

If Dad won’t stop talking about something inappropriate, distract him by showing him a video, changing the subject or doing an activity he enjoys. Changing his focus may help curb his comments.

4. Think about the underlying problem

A loss of inhibition or speaking inappropriately might stem from environmental factors such as an irritant in his surroundings; something physical, such as the need for food or water; or a health condition, such as dementia. His behavior also may be occurring because he’s angry about getting older. Talk to him about his frustrations and ask how you can help.

5. Guide him away

If Dad is in a public setting and says or does something inappropriate, try guiding him to a different area or removing him from the setting completely. If his specific events or situations seem to trigger a reaction, be proactive and take him away before the next outburst.

6. Use the senses

Redirect Dad’s attention by touching his hand or shoulder to make him feel safe. Also, you could give him a piece of candy to keep his mouth busy and distract him. Another solution may be to dim the lights and diffuse essential oils to create a calm atmosphere.

7. Take him to a professional

If Dad becomes violent or threatening or show a consistent loss of inhibition, it’s time to visit a doctor or therapist. It also might be time to hire a professional caregiver who knows how to handle situations like these.

8. Try not to take it personally

If Dad is losing his filter and his words or actions have become hurtful, it’s important not to take it personally. There could be many contributing factors that have nothing to do with you. Keep in mind that it’s likely not his intention to hurt or embarrass you.

As Dad ages, he will encounter many changes in life, some of which may impact his behavior. A senior living community can offer a setting that helps him—and you—acclimate to this time in his life. Contact Life Care Services to learn more about what is available to your family.

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