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Social Filters Can Come and Go When Living with Dementia


When working properly, our brains have a social filter.  This is a thinking skill that most people have developed over time and can control without even realizing it. We all have unkind thoughts from time to time, but we do not always say out loud what we are thinking. Our social filter helps us use words and actions that show kindness and consideration to others.

 An example of this is when we get a handmade sweater from our Grandma. The unkind thought might pop into our mind “Wow, this is sure ugly!”, but we don't want to hurt her feelings, so we instead say: “Thanks for the sweater, Grandma, that must have been a lot of work!” - our Social Filter at work.

 Social Filter on - brain is considering other people's feelings; Social Filter off - brain is only thinking about one's self.

 The front part of the brain is responsible for these Social Filters and when Dementia hits this part of the brain, it can destroy the learned responses that filters provided and unkind words or actions can come out. This can be an insult here, a racist remark, an obscene gesture, foul language, sexually inappropriate behavior or comments, really any of a number of things that might be construed as mean or insulting.  Also as quick as this behavior appears, it can be replaced by properly functioning social filters causing an observer to wonder what is going on.

 As professional caregivers of people with dementia, we have developed techniques to help with this inconsistent behavior of the brain. We try to learn as much about the person who has the dementia and exhibits these behaviors so we can help them remember what they forgot, their filter.  We remind the offender that we don't act or speak that way to this person because they are our friend or that you just hurt them - helping them relearn their filter.

 Now with dementia they don't always remember what just happened, but when this reminding happens with the right technique, some elements of learning do take place.  Other times we learn that the filters are lost when the individual with dementia is in pain and they don't know how to ask for help or say they are in pain.  They do remember how to call attention to themselves by losing their filters and it is up to their caregivers to discover there might be a medical problem underlying this behavior or change such as an infection or dehydration or any number of things.

 Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Russ Udelhofen, Administrator of Jaxpointe Assisted Living Memory Care Homes. He may be reached at 303-420-5590 or email at

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Russ Udelhoffen