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An unpleasant thought: is this the "default" Human?


Registered User
Dec 15, 2012
I am left wondering: is this our “default” setting?

Let me explain.
Having viewed my father’s Alz' + aphasia at close quarters and having witnessed his gradual deterioration over seven years, I am still left wondering if anyone has any stories to tell where the Alzheimer’s patient is actually a nicer person?

Granted, we all have some humorous tales to tell along the way, stories that help enormously in such trying times, but it’s the overall scenario I am left musing over.

This may not sit well with those reading this, and I appreciate ever carer has a unique view point and set of experiences, but I have never heard anyone tell me their charge is a better, nicer (or similar) person in the mid (?) but especially advanced stage of this disease.

…. which leaves me wondering, “ is this the default human setting?” and all else is learning & conditioning that we assimilate along the way?


Registered User
Dec 19, 2011
This is something I have pondered over many times. I think so, yes. If we look at the general behaviour of toddlers - they are yet to learn the social norms. They play up, scream and shout to get their own way. We have to learn to be unselfish, to be cooperative. Let's face it, there is a minority in society who don't ever achieve this.

I believe that once the conditioning of this social learning starts to unravel, it is a kind of reversal back to the default human. The loss of empathy is probably the biggest factor.


Registered User
Jan 20, 2011
My mum is mid-late stage in her dementia. She can talk in short sentences, she can eat with cutlery and drink from a glass or cup. She can walk up to 20 metres with a Zimmer. Perhaps that is not late stage? She is incontinent, sleeps 16 hours out of 24, and naps even when she is not in bed. She cannot write and although can still read individual words the meaning eludes her. She has had vascular dementia for 6.5 years. Her heart is failing, so perhaps she will be spared true end-stage?

She was a difficult, suspicious, critical person and while highly intelligent her frame of reference was more emotional than logical. You could never have a rational discussion over differences of opinion without tantrums and accusations. If you didn't see things her way you were the enemy.

I always believed that much of this was learned behaviour, copying her family's behaviours and responding to what life threw at her by becoming more and more negative as she got older. I think she was a lively, fun person when she was young.

The blessing that dementia has brought her is that all that negativity and aggression has washed away. She is cared for in great peace and comfort in her own home. Other people now deal with the threatening outside world. She sleeps, she eats, she dozes in her chair in the sun. Sometimes people read to her. Her favourite son telephones regularly. Her carers say she is a sweet old lady and they care for her with genuine love.

Not everyone with dementia behaves like a toddler having a tantrum. Yes, she's had her moments. She's made carers cry by sulking and refusing to be pleased. A skill perfected over many years I can tell you! But now she can't be bothered with that nonsense. She no longer enjoys conflict and just wants those around her to smile so she knows she's safe.
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Registered User
Jan 20, 2011
My mum has all her needs met. Her needs are simple. She is safe and secure and fortunately accepts that where she lives now is 'home'. She is clean, warm and well fed. She is the centre of attention. There are no other people competing for attention as there would be in residential care. She dislikes music, TV, radio and telephones so we only use these when she's not around. Her garden is kept nicely so she has a lovely view from her window. So she jolly well ought to be a happy bunny.

Up to the age of 3 she was the pampered baby sister to her brothers, with an ayah who adored her, as well as doting parents. Then she was sent to the other side of the world to school (yes, she was only 3) and so began a life of good things mixed with bad things, growing up, I believe it's called. She would have preferred to remain as queen of her domestic domain and now at last she has achieved that!

I am very well aware of how privileged she is. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to look after her. I know that there won't be such resources for me when it's my turn. I also realise that if she'd been a spitting cobra or an escapologist then we couldn't have kept her at home. I just wanted to tell people that not everyone with dementia gets nastier. No-one could be more surprised than I, going on her past behaviour!


Registered User
Mar 21, 2014
Both my husband and I are very firmly of the opinion that dementia brings out your true personality - although I can also see the point that what many dementia sufferers revert to is a kind of "default setting" - in many ways this makes even more sense.

My FIL was always a difficult man, quick to criticise and slow to praise and his dementia just made him impossible to deal with at times. The only person who could balance his negativity was my MIL but she died suddenly 4 years ago and we've pretty much lurched from one crisis to another with him since then, nearly all brought about by his refusal to accept help, be sensible, cooperate and be nice!

He's now in a care home (the decision was pretty much made for us by the various agencies involved with him because they deemed him to be a danger to himself) and there has been one thing after another since he was admitted - throwing himself on the floor, stripping the sheets off the bed and urinating on the floor! Typical toddler behaviour in many ways.

About a year ago he suffered a serious fall - his fault not the CH - and fractured his hip the result being that his dementia spiralled significantly and he's now completely unable to do anything for himself but he still has days when he will try and bite the staff who are attempting to feed him.

We are also pretty sure that FIL knows full well what he's doing when he's being difficult and he even seemed to take a delight in the trouble he's causing.

It could be that the way he behaved was learned - I gather FIL's own father was also a difficult man and FIL has spent his whole life trying to live up to standards he could never hope to meet and get approval from a father who was never going to give it. If this is the case then dementia has not released him from the burden sadly.


Registered User
May 8, 2011
This is a really interesting discussion.
Katrine - your mum sounds like a very lucky lady.
My mum has Alzheimers but remains the same sunny natured person she has always been (barring the occasional storm). I think this is her "core".
My dad has vascular dementia. He has never been a happy man, was a very overbearing man who would always see conspiracies and think the worst of everyone. There is still an element of paranoia at times (thought this is reducing) but in general he has lost a lot of his negativity, so I think I am now seeing him more as he should have been.
I am tryng to cultivate a nicer person inside myself in preparation for when I reveal my core........


Registered User
Oct 8, 2011
My aunt is calm and peaceful in mid to late dementia, her sister with vas dem was violent, but never to me.
My mother, who was very ill with stroke and kidney disease was awful. I wonder, if people revert to childhood in that they behave worse where they feel safest?


Volunteer Moderator
Jul 14, 2006
My husband was quiet, avoided confrontation and had no sense of humour.

Now in a nursing home he talks to everyone, will approach anyone and when in the right mood is very funny and had a wicked sense of humour. The carers are always telling us about funny happenings with him and I some times find it difficult to believe it is my husband.

He never accepted fools and this stays the same. He speech is not clear and sometimes I find it difficult to answer him if I have not understood him. If I give the wrong answer then I get the huff, the dirty look and total blank out. So no change there.



Registered User
Aug 30, 2012
Brixham Devon
Pre AD my Husband was the most laid back, gentle man you could ever meet. Now he is violent, agitated and manic.I never saw any violence from Pete until he became ill and that's how I want to remember him.To me his demented self is not the true person I knew.

Take care

Lyn T


Registered User
Feb 19, 2014
I have also thought this whether personality pre-dementia decides how a person will be. I can only speak for my grandad who has mixed dementia, he remains a loving, gentleman with a fabulous sense of humour. He has always done everything for everyone and always did what he was told, the only thing that has changed is he occasionally says no to my nan - which he never did before (I think he used to think it but would never say it) it's nice to see some fire on his belly now! He has never been aggressive or violent!


Registered User
Jun 24, 2013
I've no idea where my MIL is in the stages, whenever I read the lists she seems to have some behaviours and issues from most of the stages, she has been diagnosed for a year, and we were trying to get her to the doctor for three years before that.

She has always been a difficult, critical, contrary, illogical lady, and she still is - and then some!

However, she is currently exhibiting some sweet, placid and grateful attitudes in between all the aggravation that neither of us have ever seen before. I find it throws me more than the craziness. :D

Personally, I think our default setting is ignorance and innocence with the ability, and need, to learn, and it's what we learn that civilises us if you will.

Our default setting of ignorance and innocence is not our "natural state" though, we are meant to learn, and of course, this ability is lost in dementia, so although people with dementia may seem ignorant and innocent, without the ability to learn they have not been reset to their "factory settings".


Registered User
Jan 15, 2012
I think this is a very interesting debate and one for which we all have our own unique stories! My mum has always been a quick tempered and volatile person and this is now exacerbated as she goes into the later stages of dementia, in fact we call it 'old style mum' when she behaves this way.
However, she has also developed a sense of humour which was practically non-existent before and something which continues to astound us at times.
We've also noticed that mum seems less inhibited than before and will frequently pass les than complimentary comments to us and to outsiders.
I suspect that this is almost like an unlearning or forgetting of social norms where we are taught to rein in certain thoughts and keep them to ourselves! With dementia, this seems to go out the window and whilst often funny, can also be hurtful, especially if there is an element of truth in what has been said!
I think that as carers we often try to take comfort from the belief that 'that's not really how mum/dad is' when things are said or behaviours expressed, so this debate does throw up some interesting and, l imagine, painful questions as to what is the 'real' person and whether the dementia has facilitated that coming out.


Registered User
Dec 8, 2011
North West
Some people change for the worse.

Some people change for the better.

Some people stay the same.

But because, for example, a previously calm person becomes aggressive, it doesn't follow that they will be like that for the rest of their lives.

How do I know this? Partly from personal experience. but mostly because I've been reading TP for several years.


Registered User
May 23, 2014
My mil pre Alzheimer's was a kind,gentle lady,always fussing over her children and husband. Now,in the later stages,she remains kind and gentle,very apologetic and thankful. It's heartbreaking watching her fade away,but I for one will always remember her how she was,
Love to all

Sent from my iPad using Talking Point

Lainey 127

Registered User
Nov 25, 2012
Liverpool UK
Yes..I think so. My sister and I have discussed this many times and have come to the conclusion that all the years of frustration our mother felt as a submissive housewife and mother are now coming to the fore, Mum was always such a gentle, quiet, elegant lady who would rather suffer in silence and hated any sort of confrontation. Now in mid to late stage dementia she can become vile, abusive, aggressive at the drop of a hat, and her personal habits are sometimes disgusting. Pre-dementia Mum would rather die than behave in such a manner.


Registered User
Oct 5, 2013
When I was young, before I had even heard of dementia, I used to say that elderly people lost their inhibitions and became their true selves. Civilised behaviour stripped away, if you like.
True with my father, who became violent. You could sense him holding back when he was younger, and there are stories of the times he didn't.
OH has become more an empty shell. Although he still talks reasonably well, still quotes bits of poetry and hasn't lost his sense of humour. However, he hardly talks to me, which I find difficult. He always was, and still is, stubborn!

Canadian Joanne

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 8, 2005
Toronto, Canada
I don't think it's necessarily a default situation, as I think it's more complex than that.

My mother was a person who worried what people would think and was always proper in her behaviour. But she would let her hair down with us and had a wicked sense of humour.

She went through several stages during her journey with AD. At first she because very suspicious and paranoid, with negative thoughts having no filter. Then she became very violent and aggressive, although she had exhibited some aggression previously. I posted a great deal about this on TP in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Now that she is approaching the end of her journey, she smiles and laughs and seems happy. She no longer speaks. I must be content with this.

Are any of these stages her 'true' self? I don't think so, I think human beings are far more complicated than that. All of the elements were there, the disease simply emphasized different ones at different times.


Registered User
Feb 17, 2012
I'd imagine it depends on what part of the brain the dementia attacks?
My father didn't have an easy life- TB at seven, eight years in a TB hospital, discharged and told he'd never be anything because of his disability, two disastrous marriages (one abusive). It's no wonder that he was hot tempered and depressive when I was growing up.
His decline has been rapid, and in earlier stages he was suspicious, aggressive, even occasionally violent, but fortunately that lasted only a few months.
Now he is happy, comfortable, well cared for, openly loving- like a child, the carers in his home love him and tell me what a character he is.
I look at him and think the dementia has wiped away all those bad memories, and in a way that makes him incredibly lucky.

Canadian Joanne

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 8, 2005
Toronto, Canada
Now he is happy, comfortable, well cared for, openly loving- like a child, the carers in his home love him and tell me what a character he is.
I look at him and think the dementia has wiped away all those bad memories, and in a way that makes him incredibly lucky.
Yes, in a way he is lucky. At least now he is happy.

I always am fearful for people who went through horribly traumatic events when young who later develop dementia. I'm thinking specifically of people sexually abused as children and Holocaust survivors.