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What to look for?

Insensitivity | Common Signs

  • Does not recognize or understand the feelings of others
  • Makes comments that are mean or hurtful
  • Reacts in a way that does not match the situation (e.g. laughs at a funeral)
  • Is rude to others
  • Yells or shouts at others
  • Is unconcerned about the death of a friend or relative
  • Does not appreciate the things others do for them
  • Is primarily concerned with their own needs
Insensitivity | General Description

The ability to be aware of the feelings of other people and to modify one's own behaviour to take the feelings of others into account is a basic part of social interaction. Throughout their lives, some people are better at this than others. Sensitivity to others' feelings is a part of what is called 'executive function', which is affected in all forms of dementia. Insensitivity is seen, of course, with Frontotemporal dementia , as it affects the parts of the brain needed to be sensitive to others. Interestingly, insensitivity is also commonly reported by families of people with early Alzheimer's disease . It is often coupled with irritability. The exception to this is irritability, which is often seen early, as is some "coarsening" of behaviour. By coarsening, it is meant that the behaviour is not entirely atypical , but usually only done with family or people close to them. The ability of the person you care for to understand and respond to the feelings of others may be affected by Alzheimer's disease. The person you care for may begin to act in a thoughtless or apathetic way towards family members, friends and others. They may not recognize how the language they use, or the things they do make other people feel. As a result they may say things that are rude or mean or behave in a difficult way. Also, the person you care for may not react in the appropriate way to a given situation. For example, they may talk loudly during a movie. The person you care for may even act insensitively towards you, making you feel that your efforts are unappreciated. They may complain and criticize you and your hard work.

One of the more difficult changes for families of those experiencing Frontotemporal dementia is the change in how the person reacts emotionally. Sometimes it is subtle, but very often a dramatic shift happens where the person who was once sympathetic and compassionate to others' distress now appears to be selfish and unfeeling. This is called "emotional blunting".

People with Frontotemporal dementia show a lack of insight into their own behaviour early on. They typically do not recognize the changes in their own behaviours, nor do they exhibit awareness or concern for the effect these behaviours have on the people around them, including loved ones. In addition, a person with Frontotemporal dementia may develop mental rigidity as they insist on having their own way. Another symptom connected to this inflexibility, where a person has increasing difficulty adapting to new or changing circumstances. The combination of lack of insight, insensitive and inflexibility make the role of the caregiver even more difficult.

The mental inflexibility that is often demonstrated as an early sign of Parkinson's Disease dementia can also have the appearance of insensitivity to others, as people stay focused on the tasks that are occupying them. These tasks might not be what needs to be done, or what the other person would like to do.

The first step in taking a more active role in symptom management is understanding how a symptom is affecting everyday life; the next step is communicating this knowledge to the care planning team and family members. SymptomGuideTM is designed with these goals in mind.

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See Also:
Symptom Library > Personality Changes > Personality Changes
Symptom Library > Personality Changes > Independence
Symptom Library > Thinking & Judgment > Comprehension/ Understanding
About Dementia > Alzheimer's Disease > Inhibition
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Last updated January 13, 2019
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