3 Clues to Deciphering the Nonsensical Speech of Dementia

"I want pancake . . . bird window . . . let's go now." Seemingly nonsensical speech is a common development in moderate dementia, as language skills become increasingly scrambled. But often, there's logic behind the words that come out.

Here's what happens: An inability to concentrate and to contain a thought in the "holding pen" of immediate memory can make it literally impossible for someone with moderate-stage dementia to finish a thought. The person starts out on one track and then, losing his or her way, zigs or zags to another thought that has popped into mind.

  • Pay especially close attention to the first words. They may best reflect what the person initially wanted to communicate -- say, pancakes, because he or she is hungry.

  • Look for related meanings. Often words about water, rain, and showers indicate that the person has to use the bathroom (or has already wet himself or herself).

  • Look for connections between like objects. "Hairbrush" and "toothbrush" both have bristles, for example, and a fork's tines may seem similar.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 3 years ago, said...

Sometimes my mother will chuckle, because her language loss and mixed-up context are things she still notices herself doing. So, she may stop, and try another way to say something. I brought her a favorite shrimp dish today, packed in ice, with lemon slices and red sauce. And as she was getting ready to tuck into the food, she asked, "Did you bring a the sticky thing?", pantomiming a poking, then eating gestures, with two fingers. I make certain to watch her when she sits down to eat. So her meaning was immediately clear although the word had actually escaped her. Mom was asking for an implement to stick and help her eat the shrimps: a FORK. So I said, "One of those tiny shrimp forks, you mean?" She nodded vigorously. Sometimes body language works when spoken language fails.

over 3 years ago, said...

All of the suggestions / options were "do-able" and make sense. Thanks.

almost 5 years ago, said...

Attending to the initial thought is a useful idea!

about 5 years ago, said...

Rememberring to return to initial first words really helps.

over 5 years ago, said...

Thank you for the simple explanations.

almost 6 years ago, said...

The "nose thing" is a facial tissue; I understand that one right away now, but need to remember to be patient when those nonsensical sentences start. Mom gets a little short with me when I start guessing what she means and tells me, "You know, you should be able to remember." But then there are those great moments when I catch on!!!