If You Notice This While Talking, Get Checked for Dementia
This conversational change may signal a serious problem.
Right now, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's or related dementias, a group of conditions marked by memory loss and cognitive impairment. For those in its earliest stages, the symptoms may appear subtle and be written off as a normal part of aging. But experts say that dementia is not a given, and symptoms, no matter how slight, always require medical assistance. "Signs and symptoms of dementia result when once-healthy neurons—or nerve cells—in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die," explains the National Institute on Aging (NIA). "While everyone loses some neurons as they age, people with dementia experience far greater loss."
Though signs of dementia can be difficult to identify early on, there may be certain red flags that can tip you off to the problem. In particular, experts say there's one thing you may notice while talking that signals a dementia diagnosis. Read on to find out which symptom may crop up in conversation, and what to do if you notice this sign of cognitive decline.
If you start using uncommon words for familiar objects, get checked for dementia.
The NIA explains that many people with Alzheimer's and other dementias experience changes in their ability to effectively communicate. This may include developing a hindered ability to speak, express thoughts, comprehend complex ideas, read, or write, says the organization, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Specifically, they say those with dementia are prone to "using unusual words to refer to familiar objects" as their cognitive impairment progresses. Another manifestation of this same symptom is to describe familiar objects broadly instead of calling them by their name.
You may notice these other changes in communication.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are several other ways that dementia may affect one's ability to communicate clearly, especially as the disease advances. "Communication with a person with Alzheimer's requires patience, understanding and good listening skills," they write.
The organization notes that someone with mid-stage to advanced dementia may struggle to find the right words in conversation, use familiar words often, speak less frequently, rely on gestures to communicate, or revert to their first language. They may tell the same stories repeatedly or lose their train of thought easily.
These communication problems can be isolating.
Because communication can become increasingly difficult for those with dementia, it can sometimes lead to increased isolation from others. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that social isolation is linked with a 50 percent increase in risk of dementia, and that it can worsen symptoms in those who already suffer from the condition. For this reason, it's important to maintain connections with individuals with dementia, even as conversation becomes a greater challenge.
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Here's how to keep the conversation going if a loved one has dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association has several tips for how to engage more effectively with an individual who has Alzheimer's or related dementias.
First, don't make assumptions about a person's ability to communicate based on their diagnosis—dementia is different for everyone. Be conscious of excluding, infantilizing, and interrupting the person as you notice changes in their communication style. Take time to listen, and give those with dementia adequate time to respond. In the early stages of cognitive impairment you may be able to ask whether they know what form of communication works best for them.
As dementia progresses and communication becomes a greater challenge, focus on providing patience, directness, and a listening ear, says the organization. Minimize distractions, speak slowly and clearly, and ask closed-end questions when possible.