Language and dementia

According to an article I came across today, people with good language skills early in life and develop dementia later in life are likely retain their memories better than those without such skills. They believe that testing the mental abilities of people in their early 20s can predict whether they will retain their mental abilities in their 70s and 80s.

It doesn’t say whether this involves language skills in one language or more than one, but other studies have found that being bilingual or multilingual can delay by several years the onset of Alzheimer’s and other conditions that tend to strike the elderly.

The article caught my eye because last night I sang with the Bangor Community Choir at Plas Maesincla, a care home for people with dementia in Caernarfon. Many of the residents perked up when we sang some well-known Welsh songs, such as Calon Lân and Sospan Fach, and quite a few joined in. So I think the songs might have triggered some happy memories.

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This entry was posted in Language.

5 Responses to Language and dementia

  1. Liza says:

    My grandmother is 97 and has late-stage dementia. She has no idea who I or anyone else is, and usually does not know where she is. However, during Christmas she is able to sing every single Christmas carol. My mother now communicates with her by singing the “old standards” from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Thank you for sharing that wonderful story about singing with the choir–it’s very encouraging.

  2. Pete says:

    I doubt that this is correlated specifically with language skills. People who have regularly exercised their minds (with language, mathematics, or anything else) tend to stay lucid for longer when they get old.

  3. peter j. franke says:

    Yeah, I agree with Pete. In my work a dealt with those suffering from Alsheimer disease and my experience that exercise helps to keep your mind together. Of course the condition to be able to do this in developed and diverse language skills is a surplus.

  4. I am a Catholic priest and am frequently called to the bedsides of those at the end of their lives. One of the the things I have found is that as a person ages into senility or dementia they will frequently lose any language they acquired as they grew up and revert to that they learnt as a baby on their mother’s knee. Sometimes here in the western USA the original language of an aged parent isn’t even known well by their children, let alone by other family members, and it’s often sad to see the loss of communication. I know Latin, and without entering into the ecclesial fray about whether to use that language on Sundays, I do find that sometimes the elderly dementia patients will respond to the Latin prayers they learnt in childhood – even if they didn’t really understand it then, let alone now. There’s a familarilty (at least for Catholics) that brings some joy to family members preparing for their loved onés passing.

  5. Molly Dee says:

    I sing with those who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and have found singing makes them happy. They feel part of a choir and they seem to improve socially, physically and emotionally during and after singing. Research has found that singing benefits 90% of those with dementia. Often people with dementia can sing words they cannot say.
    Songs connect us all.