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Tuesday, August 1, 2017


     A while back I was somewhat astonished to hear a Registered Nurse who works at a nursing home telling of an elderly Christian pastor in her care who, according to her, was in a backslidden condition as evidenced by his use of profanity. 
     I was somewhat astonished because as a Registered Nurse I thought she would have known of a condition called coprolalia which is the medical term for uncontrollable swearing. It is a rare symptom of Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome and there are other causes.
     A part of the brain called Wernicke's area handles the recognition of and processing of spoken words. The prefrontal cortex handles things like personality and determining what is appropriate social behavior. 
     In most people, the left hemisphere of their brains is in charge of language, while the right hemisphere is in charge of the emotional content of language. Processing language is known as one of the "higher" brain functions, while processing emotion is considered one of the "lower" or more primal and instinctual brain functions. 
     Scans of the brain have revealed that swearing tends to affect the "lower" regions. Strong language gets "tagged" emotionally as we grow up because our parents or teachers or peers react more strongly to certain words than others. If they react negatively to these words, that emotion gets stored in our brains along with any meanings of the words. So instead of processing "swear words" as a series of sounds as we do other words, the brain stores these "emotionally charged" words as whole units. As a result, the brain does not need the left hemisphere's help when processing them. Instead it relies on the system which controls memory, emotion, and behavior and the area which controls motor functions and impulse control to process the swear words. Swearing is therefore a motor activity with a strong emotional content and explains why most people remember swear words four times better than they do other words. 
     Studies have shown that the brain tends to "struggle" with itself when a person swears because these two areas are competing for which will "win" in the moment. 
     Swearing is also affected by some disorders.  Besides being a rare symptom of Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome another condition known as aphasia causes people to lose the ability to speak or pronounce words.  This can happen as a result of disease or damage in the parts of the brain that control language. 
     Even when aphasics have lost the ability to speak other words they remember how to swear and have no trouble remembering those words. Similarly, people who have had an accident or procedure that severs the connection between hemispheres of their brain tend to display a dramatic drop in their language abilities, but they still remember how to swear. 
     Although not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, as the disease progresses Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia causes changes such as memory loss, the hallmark of dementia, but the use of foul language can also develop. 
     Dementia is a condition that affects the brain and that's why people with dementia sometimes have difficulty finding the right words, or as the disease progresses into the later stages, they may not be able to speak at all. 
     Another effect of dementia can be that words that otherwise would not be spoken now may be freely used due to the loss of inhibitions and personality changes that sometimes develop as dementia progresses. Foul language may stream out of the person's mouth at times, even if they've never uttered a swear word before in their life and a person who would never say anything to hurt others before developing dementia might now call someone offensive names. 
     As an RN she should have known all this.

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