Dementia and Language

dementia and language

Harnessing The Power of Native Language

Usually when we talk about The Power of Language we are speaking about what words to use and which to avoid when speaking about senior living. Using words like apartment instead of unit or community instead of facility. Language is such a broad term and has such a big impact on senior living and memory care. Not only is language what we use to connect with others and socialize but it’s also how we express needs or how we like to be cared for.

Many people moving into senior living might have lived their life being bilingual. The ability to speak multiple languages has many benefits in terms of brain function and ability to adapt to multiple cultures. As people get older there are still benefits to speaking multiple languages but there are also some concerns.

Dementia and Language

What are the benefits:

People who speak two languages are constantly choosing which one to speak and actively suppressing the other language. This brain function may boost resistance against dementia and language decline. It’s important to note that although being able to speak multiple languages may help in preventing the oncoming of dementia it doesn’t mean that we should be trying to teach older adults who are starting to show signs of mild cognitive impairment a second language. This may lead to more confusion.

When it comes to being bilingual and the effect it has on resistance against dementia it’s not the age or how long you’ve been speaking the language but how proficient you are in speaking and understanding it.

Things to be aware of:

Reverting to first language: You might notice that Mom or Dad who has been speaking fluent English for 50 years is suddenly speaking some words in their native tongue or maybe they can’t find the word in English so they revert back to their first language. As people develop dementia they may start using their native language more and more. Dementia and language regression is normal, however this may pose struggles for your loved one and you as a caregiver. Your loved one may start to feel frustration at not being able to communicate easily. It may also lead to social isolation and depression if they can no longer talk with friends as they always have.

How can you as a caregiver help the situation?

  • Native speaker: Is there someone in your family or a friend who speaks the language that your loved one has reverted back to? Can you connect with them for help in translation and to offer someone for your loved one to speak with on a regular basis in the same language?
  • Activities in native language: Find activities that can be enjoyed in the native language, reading books and listening to music may prove to be relaxing activities.
  • Technologies: translator apps may be very helpful in making quick translations.
  • Non-verbal communication: learning to read body language or paying closer attention to facial expressions may be helpful in understanding what your loved one is trying to communicate.

One benefit of moving into senior living earlier on in the development of dementia is the ability for our caregivers to learn about your loved one and how best to care for them while they are able to explain it themselves. The effects of dementia and language are unique to each individual, dedicated caregivers take the time to listen and learn to each resident. Learning their likes and dislikes is so important because as people start being able to communicate less, our caregivers already know the nonverbal ques and behaviors to look for. The more we learn about your loved one and their past, the better we are able to care for them.


Discover life at a Northbridge community

If you’re considering senior living for yourself or a family member, we hope you’ll visit one of our communities. You’ll find a maintenance-free, activity-filled and engaging lifestyle to help support your wellness goals.

You’ll also discover many benefits in a Northbridge Senior Living community, including our Signature Program S.T.A.R. Club (Sharp Thinking, Active Residents) – which offers our residents several activities to participate in with others, including:

  • Daily exercise group
  • Walking club
  • Tai Chi & yoga
  • Nutritional classes
  • Library and book club
  • Museum outings
  • Artists in residence program
  • Multi-generational music
  • Genealogy Generations

If you are considering senior living as the right choice for yourself or a loved one, we invite you to Find a Northbridge Community near you to learn more.

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