Is it normal for dementia patients to lose their ability to speak?

8 answers | Last updated: Jan 11, 2017
Srauniyar asked...

My mother was diagnosed with dementia about three years ago. What I notice is that she has lost an excessive amount of weight and memory, and now for the last 6 months she doesn't even talk. Someone has to feed and bathe her. Is it normal for dementia patients to lose their ability to speak? When I am talking to her, it seems that she understands everything but is not able to reply back. The only reply she gives me is her tears. What else going to happen to her? How is her situation is going to be in the near future and how long does she have?

Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

It sounds as if your mother is depressed and she may need medication to help her get over this sadness. Depression is often seen in people with dementia.

If medication doesn't help elevate her mood, it may be that she has slipped into the last stage of her illness. In this stage it is normal to lose speech, and need to be fed and bathed. Consider having her assessed for hospice care as they may be able to help both of you. A hospice evaluation doesn't necessarily mean that she is going to die soon but it may mean that she has reached the stage of life where she, as well as you, her caregiver, could benefit from professional help easing through this stage. If she does not qualify for hospice, you will have at least made begun contact with them, and they can offer suggestions on how to keep your mother comfortable. Learning more about this time of life can help it be less frightening. I write about these things in my own book, The End-of-Life Namaste Care Program for People with Dementia.

Community Answers

Caregiving wife answered...

My husband is in mid-stage Alzheimer's and still quite functional for many things - his own grooming, helping with housework and yardwork, caring for our cat's feeding and litter box, and so on. However, he has a lot of trouble expressing himself. He starts a sentence, loses the next word he wants, and in the process, forgets his thought entirely. His input is good - he understands what I'm saying. His output is bad - he rarely finishes what he starts to say, and I'm left asking if it was about this or that so he can answer yes or no.

So if my husband is losing speech in mid-stage, and your mother is at the stage of requiring feeding and bathing by someone else, I'm not surprised she is losing her ability to speak. You have my sympathy with how hard this is, especially as is sounds like it could be the last stage. Remember you're not alone in this, and use this site to vent, question, and grieve, but also to celebrate any small thing that gives you a smile.

Despite his loss of conversation, my husband still gives me the warmest hugs, we still enjoy walks at sunset and ice cream cones and funny movies... There are still moments of joy in even the darkest times. Hold on to them. Keep a daily log of them if it helps: for instance, "Today Mom laughed at my joke and sounded just like she did when I was little."

I wish you and your mom strength and peace and moments of joy.

Pld answered...

My mother lost her ability to speak when she had multiple stroke dementia. She'd try very hard and occasionally got a few words out (or even could sing, with her pastor leading the way and encouraging her). She could understand what we were saying so long as she could hear us (Mom had a lifelong problem with ear wax buildup, unrelated to her dementia) and was able to survive 4+ years in skilled nursing care before her death in May 2009. She suffered strokes after double bypass heart surgery and was just never the same. She and my father fortunately lived in a 3-stage retirement community, Sherwood Oaks in Cranberry Twp PA where Dad could visit her every day he was well; we just lost Dad to heart-related problems at age 90.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother went in and out of being able to speak in the final year of Alzheimer's. I would be very careful about anti-depressants if I were you. Those kinds of meds affect people with dementia very differently from normal people.

Frena answered...

Short answer to your question: No, it's not normal. it is most often stroke-related, with the strokes affecting the frontotemporal lobe, which controls speech (though singing is controlled in a different brain center and someone who loses spoken words can often still sing: i know families who sing their sentences to grandma so she sings back. Hey, whatever works...) And the writer is correct, i'm sure, in saying that probable depression may also be at the bottom of a slow steady loss of speech. in grief and sadness, at the loss of personal life patterns, deep withdrawal can happen. But that too can possibly be helped.

The truth still is that so little real facts are known about alzheimer's -- even whether alzheimer's actually IS alzheimers, alas, with a 50 percent wrong diagnosis right now -- that it is always worth seeking more help and most of that help is fully paid for by Medicare. So, go for it!

Rrc answered...

My wife Shirley who passed away with Alzheimer's disease May/ 24 /2010 could not speak for the last 4 or 5 years of her life. She did not have a stroke. Her neurologist said loss of speech was common with some Alzheimer's patients. She understood everything I said to her last living breath. She developed contractures in both arms and legs,had to be bathed and fed for several years. I kept her at home per her wishes. The disease affects everyone differently. Be careful giving antidepressants as well as the med hospice prescribes. My wife was allergic to morphine and our local Hospice did not know you can give it with medicine that keeps you from vomiting because of allergies to morphine. I found out about giving anti nausea med after my wife passed away. 2 other drugs they commonly use gave my wife seizures every time she took them. Hospice's answer was to double up on them which I refused to do. It was difficult keeping my wife at home but I would do it again. I love her and miss her so much but feel good inside that I was there for her in her time of need and helped make it easier for her to return to God. May God bless all of you caregivers during these difficult times. RRC

Jl55 answered...

I agree that you must be very careful giving medications. I have seen some terrible reactions in the elderly. Try other things first. Sometimes more problems and health issues arise all because of meds were given. If you disagree with the doctors tell them. If they won't listen find a new doctor. Less meds is better if possible. It can cause long term suffering in many cases.

Mintyyy77 answered...

srauniyar...yes it is normal for your mother not to speak with dementia. my dad had it for 6 yrs, the lat few yrs he lost his speech, he would say the odd word here and there but coudnt talk, he past away last september...theres no way to say it but it does gradually get worse which sucks.just try keep your mother smiling/happy/comforatbale best u can...i looked after my dad every single day for 6 yrs...kept him at home to which made him happier. i wish u luck...enjoy the happy times.