Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How can you care for someone in an anonymous virtual community when their behavior changes in worrying ways (see details)?

Asked by wundayatta (58663points) September 11th, 2012

Suppose a person you knew informally (in a virtual community) started exhibiting strange behavior. Perhaps they were more combative than they ever had been in the past. Perhaps they start to misunderstand things regularly, whereas in the past they had never had troubles in the cognitive area. Suppose this started happening more and more regularly. You start to wonder if this person is starting to experience some form of dementia—perhaps Alzheimer’s or early symptoms of some other organic change in their brain.

What would you do, if anything? It’s an anonymous virtual community, so you don’t even know who the person really is. Would you address it directly with them? Would you try to find out if the person had relatives and then try to talk to them? Would you just ignore it because really, there is nothing you can do?

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21 Answers

lookingglassx3's avatar

If it were me, I’d try and find out if the person had relatives and express your concerns to them. Screenshots of their peculiar behaviour may be useful to serve as evidence to the relatives. Or, if that fails, maybe try and casually ask the person, “Is everything okay?” If it’s very early on in, say, Alzheimer’s, then they themselves may have concerns that their mind is failing them which they may have been previously reluctant to openly admit.

YARNLADY's avatar

I would try to begin a PM relationship with them.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I belong to a prostate cancer support group. Virtually all the guys are in their 50’s and 60s with a few in their 40s and 70’s. Occasionally a surgery or initial treatment will fail and some poor guy will need to start chemo, radiation or hormone therapy. Quite often you can tell that something has happened to his head. Jokes are no longer acceptable, he might become irritable, or depressed, or quick to anger.
If someone uncharacteristically lashes out but is on HT we just let it pass. Nobody argues. We call it playing the Cancer card. The guy gets a pass no matter what he says.
Almost always he comes back later with his… um… tail between his legs and apologizes. It is always accepted.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY What would you say in a PM relationship?

@lookingglassx3 How would you find out if they had relatives?

@LuckyGuy Great example of what I mean. But do you ask the person if they are in treatment now, once you see the symptoms? Do you just make assumptions?

And to try to make an analogy to this question—suppose you saw the same signs in another forum without such a built-in excuse. What would you do?

LuckyGuy's avatar

The signatures list the guy’s stats and treatment. Incredible, huh? We share things we wouldn’t tell our closest friends.

YARNLADY's avatar

In regard to [this comment], I’ve followed you for many years and it seems uncharacteristic. Would you care to explain?

wundayatta's avatar

Wow, @LuckyGuy Can you imagine if we had a health status signature here? Or if it were expanded to include every important issue of the day. That would be incredible. Oh wait. Facebook thinks they already developed that. Nevermind.

Sunny2's avatar

I would PM the person and tell him/her what you have noticed here. Ask if there’s anything going on that he/she would like to talk about. If your message is ignored, try once more, then let it go.

JLeslie's avatar

I one time a while back PM“d a person because the jelly had been very argumentative for weeks, extremely angry all the time. I just asked if she was ok, and pointed out they seemed on edge lately. They thanked me, even carried on a little bit of a conversation, and said they were fine. A few weeks later they stopped posting on fluther.

CWOTUS's avatar

I didn’t really have a list of namesbut I know who I’d put on it.

I’m sorry if I had you worried.

wundayatta's avatar

Oh @CWOTUS. Thanks for setting that straight. I wasn’t really worried about you. It was just a theoretical question should there come a time when I actually am worried about you.

So was that reassuring, or did I accomplish just the opposite? LOL

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m smiling, if that means anything. OTOH, a lot of people find it disconcerting when I smile at them.

It’s not like I do it that infrequently!

filmfann's avatar

I agree with the premise of your question. How can you reach out and help someone when they are anonymous?
Currently, I would wait a few months, and let this angry, bitter election get past us. People on both sides are certainly on edge. Hopefully, they won’t snap before it’s over.

augustlan's avatar

I would ask the person (via PM), if they are ok, noting the odd behavior. I have done that in the past, here, and it wasn’t received kindly. I’d still probably do it again, but with a little more tact, I hope.

janbb's avatar


marinelife's avatar

Why do you assume that there is something wrong with the other person. Like Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps it is your perceptions that have changed or the person no longer cares for you. Are you sure they are generally more irritable or is is only in their interactions with you?

wundayatta's avatar

@marinelife Assume that other people notice it, too.

Yeah. If it was only me, that wouldn’t be much to go on. I’d definitely ignore it. But if others noticed it, and confirmed one’s impressions, then what?

marinelife's avatar

@wundy Pullin’ your chain. Just couldn’t help myself. There would be nothing really that one could do in this instance except try to raise the issue with the person and suggest they get some help with it.

Kardamom's avatar

I think the only thing you could do was to politely (in PM) ask them if anything is wrong or has changed in their life because you have noticed something, and then give them an example (a gentle example not one that seems like they’ve got full blown dementia) and see what they say. I don’t think you could do much more, unless they open up to you.

wundayatta's avatar

I agree with you, @Kardamom and @marinelife. It makes me wonder what it’s like to head into dementia. People do notice something, but I suspect it is very shameful and most people are in denial; afraid they might lose the privileges of being an adult even sooner than if they hide it. Also, it must be really scary, so you have an incentive to deny it to yourself.

But maybe there’s a way to ask about behavior in a non-threatening way.

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