Language loss in dementia: you have to laugh


I’m glad we had the times together just to laugh and sing a song, seems like we just got started and then before you know it, the times we had together were gone.  Dr Seuss

My mother has a mixed diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. She was diagnosed towards the end of 2012 and I have witnessed her slow but inevitable decline over the past four years.

You talkin' to me?

It took me a while to realise that something wasn’t quite right. She was surprisingly eloquent for an Irish girl who went to a convent school and left at the age of 13 with no qualifications.  She had always loved reading poetry and was profoundly moved by the power of words. But alongside this seemingly instinctive literary streak sat a tendency to struggle to find the right words and then muddle them up. As I grew up I found I instinctively knew what she was ‘on about’ and could easily finish her sentences for her. It amused us both.

As the dementia has tightened its grip on Mum, her ability to communicate has unspooled. And while dementia is a horrible, frightening prospect for anyone, we have enjoyed plenty of opportunities to laugh, particularly at some of the things she ‘comes out with’.

And it’s not a case of laughing to make fun of someone. Mum finds her garbled English to be hilarious too. And as the years have gone by, it’s become one of the simple pleasures we can actually share. She will know that she has not quite got something right but will perservere and then laugh the loudest.

Some examples:

On being served some soup: “What’s this? Walrus?”

On picking up a mango: “Is this a gward?” “How do you spell that, Mum?” “Qwrrd.”

“I’ve really got it, haven’t I?” “What, Mum?” “Whatever you get when you lose the thing I’m losing.”

“Warma? Who’s she?” “She?”, says me. “Is it a he then?”

“I’d love to go out and walk around on that green stuff.”

On talking to her grand-daughters about pantomimes:

“Snow White and the seven fellas.”

“Aladdin and his funny lamp.”

“Jack and his flippin’ beanstalk.”

We have recently reached the point where Mum is no longer safe living by herself at home, even with carers visiting three times a day. She will be moving into residential care very soon. It’s a sad step to take but I hope to continue to talk and laugh with her even after she starts to forget who I am.





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