Dementia, interaction, and bilingualism: An exploratory case study
; Peer reviewed
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Institutt for lingvistiske og nordiske studier
Helt fabelaktig! Festskrift til Hanne Gram Simonsen på 70-årsdagen. 2016, 199-218
The unique capability of human beings to communicate through the use of natural language is a skill that is normally developed in the first few years of life and then refined and maintained throughout the lifespan. In certain language areas, though, some deterioration in linguistic skills is evident in normal aging. This typically affects lexical retrieval and comprehension of complex structures (Goral, 2013). A variety of brain diseases commonly associated with advancing age may however impact even more negatively on the individual’s language and/or communication skills. Among these are illnesses that may cause dementia in some form, the most common one being Alzheimer’s disease (Mandell & Green, 2014).
Dementia refers to a set of symptoms in different cognitive and linguistic domains, and characteristically, these symptoms are persistent and progressive, causing a deterioration of skills and knowledge. The domains affected are memory, executive functions, language, visual-spatial processing, personality and general behavior and interaction skills (Mandell & Green, 2014). In Norway, an estimated number of 70,000 individuals have a form of dementia (Strand et al., 2014), and the number is expected to increase in the years to come with the general rise of elderly individuals in the population.
A group of speakers that is especially vulnerable and underrepresented in research, nationally as well as internationally, is elderly, multilingual persons with dementia. Studies on ageing multilingual persons with dementia show mixed results. In some cases the first language is better preserved (Mendez, Perryman, Pontón, & Cummings, 1999), in other cases this is the most impaired language (Gollan, Salmon, Montoiya, & da Pena, 2010), and in yet other cases the impairments are relatively comparable across the languages (Hernández, Costa, Sebastián-Gallés, Juncadella, & Ramón, 2007).
Very few studies have been published on linguistic aspects of persons with dementia speaking Norwegian (e.g., Lind, Moen, & Simonsen, 2007; Moen, Simonsen, Øksengård, & Engedal, 2004; Simonsen, Moen, Øksengård, & Engedal, 2004), and so far none where the participants are multilingual. The present study is thus a first contribution to this underexplored field in Norway. We present an exploratory, clinical linguistic case study of a bilingual speaker diagnosed with probable dementia of the Alzheimer type in two conversational contexts, speaking his L1 (English) and his L2 (Norwegian), respectively. Our main goal is to explore his speech production in these two contexts, especially in cases where he displays problems of achieving progressivity of talk and seems to search for ways of continuing the turn at talk. We will contrast two types of progressivity problems that seem indicative of different underlying speech production problems, one affecting only the retrieval of a single lexical item and the other affecting the whole sentence structure. These will also be discussed in relation to the strategies available to his interlocutor in order to scaffold his contributions and assist in the search for linguistic material.
Dette er et kapittel fra boken Helt fabelaktig! Festskrift til Hanne Gram Simonsen på 70-årsdagen. © 2016 Novus forlag
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