Communicating and language

2. Dementia and language

Problems with language can occur in all forms of dementia. This is because the diseases that cause dementia can affect the parts of the brain that control language. How and when language problems develop will depend on the individual, as well as the type of dementia and the stage it is at. These problems will also vary day to day. In some forms of dementia - such as frontotemporal dementia - it is very likely to be one of the first symptoms that is noticed.

One sign that a person's language is being affected by dementia is that they can't find the right words. They may use a related word (eg 'book' for 'newspaper'), use substitutes for words (eg 'thing to sit on' instead of chair) or may not find any word at all. Another sign is that they may continue to have fluent speech, but without any meaning - for example, they may use jumbled up words and grammar. Dementia can also affect the person's ability to make an appropriate response, either because they may not understand what you have said or meant.

There may eventually come a time when the person can hardly communicate at all using language. This can be distressing for them and those supporting them, but there are ways to maintain communication and support the person to express themselves.

Dementia can also affect a person's cognitive abilities. A person with dementia may have slower speed of thought, or not be able to understand complex ideas. This can also affect their ability to communicate. For example, they may take longer to process thoughts and work out how to respond to what is being said.

Other factors can affect a person with dementia's communication, including pain, discomfort, illness or the side-effects of medication. If you suspect this might be happening, talk to their GP.