MultiLing Dementia: Language and Communication in Multilingual Speakers with Dementia in Norway
- Language and cognitive abilities in bilingual and multilingual healthy aging: Evidence from Norway
What is dementia?
Dementia refers to a set of symptoms seen in connection to various brain diseases that usually affect older people. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia causes progressive and persistent changes in memory, language, visual-spatial skills and knowledge, personality and general behavior and interaction skills.
Around 70 000 individuals in Norway have a form of dementia. When a person is diagnosed with dementia, it will also affect their relatives and significant others. Thus the number of people living with the consequences of dementia in their daily lives is significant. As the risk of dementia is increasing with higher age, and the general population is getting older, it is assumed that the number of people with a form of dementia will increase, too. There are also many bi- or multilingual speakers in Norway, and we know relatively little about the consequences of dementia for these individuals, their families, and for society at large.
The research project MultiLing Dementia
The aim of MultiLing Dementia is to study the linguistic, cognitive and social effects of dementia in multilingual speakers on the individual level, in interaction, and in the way that society deals with these issues. So far we have conducted a pilot study, gathering experience from case studies. In the pilot study we have collected different types of data: responses to cognitive tests and language tests, responses to questionnaires on language background and quality of life, recordings of conversations and interviews with the person with dementia and his/her significant other. The project thus integrates psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic methods and theoretical frameworks.
In the pilot study we collaborate i.a. with The Norwegian Centre for Minority Health Research in Oslo, and we have received useful input from researchers at the Center for Dementia Research (CEDER) in Linköping, and the Danish Dementia Research Center in Copenhagen. We also have a fruitful collaboration with several members of the Scientific Advisory Board of MultiLing.
Preliminary results from the pilot study were presented at The 10th International Symposium on Bilingualism (de Bot et al., 2105). In this presentation we described and discussed how word finding difficulties are manifested in different contexts – confrontation naming, picture description and conversation – in the two languages of a bilingual speaker with dementia.
Building on the pilot study, a more extensive project is planned where we aim to study
- how language storage and language processing are affected by age alone and by the combination of age and dementia in a group of elderly monolingual and multilingual speakers with and without dementia,
- what conversational strategies are used to facilitate good communication in the face of challenges related to age and dementia, and
- how the topics of ageing, illness, impairment, communication and dementia are represented in text and talk in the private and public sphere, such as media texts, policy documents, and everyday conversations