How to Use Alert Cards to Preserve Your Aging Parents’ Dignity

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Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a young child knows that eventually, you will suffer some sort of public embarrassment. Kids have no filter and blurt out pretty much anything.

There are the ever-pressing and terribly embarrassing restroom questions.

How about those public tantrums that make you look like the worst parent in the world?

Or pulling things off store shelves as you pass by them in the grocery stores.

Fortunately, most people are aware that kids march to the beat of their own drum. This kind of behavior is almost expected. But, how do you minimize embarrassing public displays/outbursts when they come from your aging parent?

using alert cards for your elderly parent

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Public Outbursts

My husband and I had been married just a few months when we were invited out to dinner by my in-laws. I had not spent much time with them and looked forward to this opportunity to really get to know them.

All was going well until my MIL, to my horror and the dismay of our waitress (and nearby diners!), loudly asked, “Isn’t sex fun?!”

I sat in stunned silence.

She went on to detail for me how she and my FIL “enjoyed themselves”. I looked at my husband and his father for signs that this was normal conversation for their family. It certainly wasn’t in mine! My FIL would occasionally chuckle nervously but was otherwise silent.

Finally, my husband said, “Mom, this conversation is not appropriate.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that this kind of conversation had indeed become the norm for my MIL.  As time went on, I too began to expect these inappropriate outbursts.

Related Post: How to Handle Elderly Bad Behavior

Blame It On the Disease

I soon became suspicious that my MIL suffered from much more than a loose tongue or lack of tact. It seemed she went out of her way to embarrass or even insult those around her.

As our outings together increased, I began to notice her inappropriateness extended past her words and into her behaviors.

  • Eating produce or food off the shelves when we’re grocery shopping is common.
  • I sit on pins and needles when guests are over just waiting for a display of nudity.
  • At appointments, she tries to impress doctors with her “expertise”.  She argues their diagnosis using as much medical jargon she can find in her vocabulary.
  • Her various ailments (whether real or imagined) are loudly discussed in detail to anyone available.
  • When asked, “How are you?”, she will in no uncertain terms inform the innocent greeter that they are to NEVER ask her that question.

Once we finally had our “official” diagnosis of Dementia her behavior started making sense.

The trouble is, this diagnosis is not written on her forehead for all to see. Most of the time, to those passing by or those who don’t spend much time with her she looks and sounds perfectly lucid. Just terribly rude and inappropriate.

Preserving Their Dignity

In my search for a solution, part of me said, “Who cares what people think?”.

This thought quickly left my mind. I do care what people think. While my MIL’s inappropriate words and actions don’t usually embarrass me (anymore!), I don’t want people to think badly of my MIL or my care of her.

Her words and actions are largely unintentional. The part of her mind that controls tact and reason are no longer functioning.

I particularly do not want those in service positions to be tempted to provide less than stellar service to her as she would have no real understanding of why they are not anything but gracious.

I could always explain to those we encounter and do business with about her illness. But, one of my goals as caregiver is to give my MIL as much love and the best quality of life I am capable.

If I were to converse with someone about her and her disease it would embarrass and humiliate her. Additionally, it would give others permission to treat her as a child or to only speak to me, ignoring her all together.

Related post: What Does Parenting Your Parents Really Mean?

I decided my best course of action was to create an alert card that very simply alerts anyone we do business with of her condition.

How to Use Alert Cards

The Dementia Alert Card looks and feels like a business card. I have my name and number on the front in case someone has questions or needs to contact me for any reason. On the back I provide a short explanation of my MIL’s words and behavior.




I bring these cards any time my MIL is with me. We hand them to anyone who would benefit from a greater awareness of Dementia and it’s often irrational behaviors.

  • This gives my MIL greater independence as she is able to interact with people without a humiliating verbal explanation of her disease.
  • It makes those we encounter aware that we are not rude, socially inept people.
  • Most importantly, these cards provide others with knowledge that helps them treat my MIL with dignity and understanding.

While our parents as they age often begin acting more like our children, it’s important we remember they still feel like adults (at least most of the time) and deserve to be treated as such.

As caregivers, we have to get creative with how we handle these more difficult situations outside our homes. An Alert Card is a great way to begin educating others about the disease and helps minimize humiliation, hurt feelings, and public embarrassment from all those involved.

Did you like this post? Have you thought of using an alert card in this way? Let me know in the comments below!

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alert cards to avoid embarrassing social encounters with the elderly

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  1. Eight years ago my mom was diagnosed with dementia. Within a month, I was already at MY wits end with insensitive medical professionals talking about my mom as if she wasn’t even in the room! Their lack of sensitivity drove me to create a simple card explaining that she understood much more than they she was given credit for and to please speak respectively to her and not about her. It was amazing to me how effective the cards were. It surprised me more that I gave out more to medical professionals than those in the community.

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