Doctors' Notes

Can Dementia Really Make You A Racist?

Donald Sterling will no longer receive Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP.

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


In light of the recent controversy surrounding the racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, there have been several theories proposed to explain the inexcusable comments of hate and intolerance.  The latest theory-proposed by his estranged wife Shelly Sterling– is that he is suffering from dementia.  While most people find this theory laughable, let’s examine how likely this can really be as an explanation for Donald Sterling’s racist rant.

With dementia affecting 1 out of every 8 adults over the age of 65, most of us have had at least some experience with a loved one battling the disease.  Some familiar symptoms of early dementia include:

*Difficulty remembering recent events


*Difficulties with language (not being able to find the right words for things)

*Difficulty concentrating

*Difficulty completing complex tasks (paying bills/balancing a checkbook)

*Getting lost in a familiar place

In Donald Sterling’s interviews and recordings, he clearly seems to recall events of the recent and distant past, certainly has no trouble with the English language while insulting the Black community in various ways, and seems to also be clear on his positions however misguided they may be.  On the surface, this sure doesn’t seem to fit the diagnosis of dementia.

To be fair, there are certainly personality and behavior changes that can be exhibited as a result of dementia.  These can include agitation, depression, aggression, and anger.  You may have experienced that a loved one with dementia may seem more ornery or stubborn. He or she may also appear very frank and more upfront than usual.  This is not uncommon.

Due to the nature of the disease, there can be a loss of inhibition that leads to these behaviors.  This means certain thoughts, feelings, and actions that would normally be filtered and felt to be inappropriate to say and do in certain situations, might otherwise be said, expressed, and/or acted on by the person experiencing dementia.  However, the explanation that dementia would cause someone to suddenly express racist thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that they didn’t previously have is far-fetched at best.

What we do find in the examination of Donald Sterling’s own words are the following symptoms:






Sorry, Mrs. Sterling-the only diagnosis that seems to fit the criteria that Donald Sterling is displaying is simply racism.


It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!