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