Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. As the brain condition progresses, it becomes increasingly hard to manage, with mild memory loss worsening to the extent that retaining even basic information becomes a struggle. It is important to note that mental decline is often subtle in the initial stages but spotting changes in a person’s cognitive abilities is vital nonetheless.
This is because, while there is no way to prevent or treat dementia, spotting it early enough can enable people to take steps to slow down its progression and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.
Memory loss is a common early symptom of dementia but changes in speech are also an early warning sign.
Speech changes are commonly associated with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a less common type of dementia.
The main warning signs related to speech include:
- Using words incorrectly – for example, calling a sheep a dog
- Loss of vocabulary
- Repeating a limited number of phrases
- Forgetting the meaning of common words
- Slow, hesitant speech
- Difficulty making the right sounds to say words
- Getting words in the wrong order
- Automatically repeating things other people have said
Dementia speech symptoms: Difficulty making the right sounds to say words is a sign
“Some people gradually lose the ability to speak, and can eventually become completely mute,” notes the NHS.
How to manage speech symptoms
According to the Alzheimer’s Society (AS), a speech and language therapist with the right experience will be able to support someone with FTD who is gradually losing their language skills.
“They will try to maximise a person’s existing skills and find new ways for them to communicate,” explains the AS.
A therapist can advise a person’s carer on new ways of listening and talking – for example, talking in simpler sentences, says the health site.
“In time, a person who is losing their language skills may be taught non-verbal ways of communicating. These can include the use of gestures, drawing or electronic devices,” it adds.
Other warning signs of FTD
Many people with frontotemporal dementia develop a number of unusual behaviours they’re not aware of.
According to the NHS, these can include:
- Being insensitive or rude
- Acting impulsively or rashly
- Loss of inhibitions
- Seeming subdued
- Losing interest in people and things
- Losing drive and motivation
- Inability to empathise with others, seeming cold and selfish
- Repetitive behaviours, such as humming, hand-rubbing and foot-tapping, or routines such as walking exactly the same route repetitively
- A change in food preferences, such as suddenly liking sweet foods, and poor table manners
- Compulsive eating, alcohol drinking and/or smoking
- Neglecting personal hygiene
“As the condition progresses, people with frontotemporal dementia may become socially isolated and withdrawn,” says the health body.
Dementia symptoms: Getting words in the wrong order is another speech sign
FTD – am I at risk?
According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, some people with FTD have a family history of dementia and the condition may be inherited in some of these families.
For behavioural variant FTD, one in every two or three people with the disease could have a family history.
Although, as Alzheimer’s Research UK points out, the figure is thought to be much lower for other forms of FTD.
“Overall, around one in ten cases of FTD are thought to be caused by a faulty gene passed down in families – also known as familial frontotemporal dementia,” says the health body.
Dementia risk reduction: Evidence suggests keeping physically and mentally robust may reduce risk
Ongoing research into this area does suggest you can mitigate the risk by adhering to a healthy lifestyle, however.
In fact, a recent study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association suggests those that carry the genetic mutation that causes FTD still have some agency.
Researchers said a systematic review revealed that physically and cognitively demanding lifestyles are associated with better brain health in relation to ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings suggest that those with a genetic predisposition for the condition can take action that may help.