If You Keep Saying This, It May Be a Sign of Dementia, Experts Say
This change in your speech patterns may be a major red flag for dementia.
Dementia can come in many forms and often begins with subtle symptoms, like misplacing the car keys or forgetting someone's name. In time, these seemingly isolated oversights can begin to occur more often, and a pattern may start to emerge. In particular, experts say there's one type of error that you may notice with increased frequency—a change in conversational skills. They warn that if you notice this new pattern in you or someone you love's language habits, it could be a sign of Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), or another related dementia. Read on to find out which dementia symptom may show up in your speech patterns—and how to recognize it quickly.
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If you immediately repeat things other people have said, it may be due to dementia.
According to the U.K.'s National Health Services (NHS), you may be showing signs of dementia if you find yourself automatically repeating things other people have said in conversation. This little-known symptom is called echolalia, and it is closely related to palilalia, the habit of immediately repeating one's own phrases.
Both conditions are surprisingly common in those with neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics found that verbal repetition occurs in over 47 percent of dementia patients. "Verbal repetition was more frequent in individuals with mild dementia compared to those with moderate and severe dementia and in those with Alzheimer's disease versus other dementias," the researchers wrote. "Overall, verbal repetition was the most common of the 60 possible symptoms reported as a target for monitoring, in 807 individuals," the team added.
Echolalia can be one of the more distressing features of dementia for both patients and caregivers. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research determined that caregivers consistently report verbal repetition as a marker of a "bad day" for those under their care.
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Echolalia may look different from one individual to the next.
Those with echolalia may experience the symptom in one of several ways. Echolalia can be "immediate," meaning you repeat the phrase or sentence immediately after hearing it or with a very minor pause. It can also be "delayed," meaning you repeat the words hours or days after first hearing the words first spoken.
Echolalia can also be "mitigated" or "unmitigated." Mitigated echolalia means you may change the words slightly during repetition, while the unmitigated form of the symptom entails repeating someone's exact words.
Being able to recognize these slight variations may better help you identify echolalia—and by extension, a possible case of dementia—in yourself or others.
Dementia can also cause other language problems, and other repetitive symptoms.
In addition to verbal repetition, experts point out that there are several other ways that dementia may affect your speech patterns. According to the NHS, those with dementia are known to suffer from loss of vocabulary, forget the meaning of common words, use slow or hesitant speech, have difficulty forming the correct sounds for words, put words in the wrong order, or use words incorrectly.
Dementia has also been linked to other repetitive symptoms that go beyond language and speech patterns. According to Health Day, people with dementia and especially those with Alzheimer's "may ask the same question 20 times in an afternoon, pace a stretch of floor for hours, or hum a tune that never seems to run out of verses."
Their experts suggest that by using reassuring words and gently redirecting the conversation or activity, you may be able to help someone with dementia break a repetitive cycle. However, before doing so "you should also ask yourself if the behavior really needs to be stopped. Your loved one may feel competent and helpful when he or she is folding that towel 50 times, and the towel won't mind, either," writes Health Day.
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Dementia is not the only possible cause of echolalia.
If you or someone you know begins showing signs of echolalia, dementia could be to blame. However, there are several other possible causes for this symptom, and you'll need to work with your doctor to identify the underlying reason for the repetition.
Experts say that besides dementia, echolalia can be caused by other neurodegenerative disorders, head injury or trauma, delirium, Tourette's syndrome, encephalitis, stroke, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. When it occurs in young children, it is frequently viewed as a possible sign of autism, though it can also be a normal part of language development at that age.
Speak with your doctor about the full range of possible explanations if you notice this change in your own speech patterns, or those of a loved one.
RELATED: 98 Percent of People With Alzheimer's Develop This Symptom First, Study Says.