Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that causes the brain to shrink, ultimately destroying memory and disrupting other important cognitive functions. Outside of its impact on memory, however, several other symptoms can help tip you off to the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. One such symptom is known to alter patients’ speech, and those who have it tend to pepper conversations with an odd pattern that doctors may recognize as a red flag. Read on to learn which speech-related symptom could indicate early-onset Alzheimer’s, and how to recognize it in yourself or others.
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Alzheimer’s disease most commonly occurs among seniors over the age of 65, but those with early-onset Alzheimer’s may begin noticing symptoms as early as their 40s and 50s. These patients often face a specific set of challenges due to their life stage, since they may have young children, demanding careers, and aging parents to care for, among other responsibilities.
“Since health care providers generally don’t look for Alzheimer’s disease in younger peoplegetting an accurate diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s can be a long and frustrating process,” experts from the Alzheimer’s Association explain. “Symptoms may be incorrectly attributed to stress, or there may be conflicting diagnoses from different healthcare professionals. People living with early-onset Alzheimer’s may be in any stage of dementia—early stage, middle stage, or late stage. The disease affects each person differently and symptoms will vary,” they add.
While many Alzheimer’s symptoms are subtle and are therefore more likely to be misattributed to stress, exhaustion, or another health condition, one particular symptom may stand out: echolalia, in which people repeat things others have said in conversation.
As it turns out, this type of verbal repetition is surprisingly common among those with Alzheimer’s. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics found that verbal repetition occurred in over 47 percent of dementia patients. “Verbal repetition was more frequent in individuals with mild dementia compared to those with moderate and severe dementia and in those with Alzheimer’s disease versus other dementias,” the researchers wrote. “Overall, verbal repetition was the most common of the 60 possible symptoms reported as a target for monitoring, in 807 individuals.”
Echolalia can sound different from patient to patient, but knowing its range of presentations can help you identify the symptom sooner rather than later.
Peope with echolalia may repeat words or phrases immediately after hearing them, after a brief pause, or in some cases even hours or days after a conversation has ended. Some people repeat the words exactly as they heard them, while others change the wording slightly.
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If you notice signs of echolalia in yourself or someone else, don’t panic: Alzheimer’s is not the only possible explanation for this symptom. It’s important to see a doctor who can help to determine whether verbal repetition is related to dementia.
Beyond Alzheimer’s, echolalia can be caused by other neurodegenerative disordershead injury or trauma, delirium, Tourette’s syndrome, encephalitis, stroke, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. When the symptom appears in young children, it is often viewed as a possible sign of autism, though it can also be a normal part of language development at that age.
Speak with your medical provider if you notice verbal repetition in your own speech patterns or someone else’s. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, you may be able to slow its progression with the help of your doctor.
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