Late stage question - French delusions?

Discussion in 'Welcome and how to use Dementia Talking Point' started by Alex111, Jul 16, 2019.

  1. Alex111

    Alex111 New member

    Jul 16, 2019
    My mum has had Alzheimer’s for almost 15 years. She is now mostly calm and almost childlike, unable to retain any thoughts for more than a few seconds. But something interesting and quite funny has started recently and I wonder if anyone else has seen this or has any pertinent advice about it:
    Mum, who is English, spoke very average school-girl French and only occasionally in her 86 years. Recently, however, she has become stuck in a loop where she speaks French almost 100% of the time. It’s more like ‘franglais’ because she doesn’t have the full vocabulary, but it is persistent, instinctive and pretty much unstoppable! At first it was funny, amazing and quite sweet and it still is, although it means we get very little of the previously quite rewarding conversations we used to have with her. It’s almost as if she’s stuck in a fantasy world in which she is a French woman.
    Has anyone - carer or specialist - come across this before?
    It’s a minor inconvenience and definitely one we can live with, but we’re all curious about it. So, any thoughts would be very welcome.
  2. marionq

    marionq Registered User

    Apr 24, 2013
    Mais oui! I have mentioned a number of times that my husband was greatly given to speaking to me in French or German up
    until a few years ago. It is now much rarer but pops out occasionally. He did love learning foreign languages and would read a German grammar in bed while I was reading a novel.
  3. jaymor

    jaymor Volunteer Moderator

    Jul 14, 2006
    Hi @Alex111 and welcome to DTP.

    My friend’s Mother was German and came to live in England in her early twenties. English was her second language that became the only language she used. She developed Alzheimer’s in her mid seventies and the odd German word would pop into her conversation. Over time she did revert back to German which made life difficult because non of her family spoke German.

    Most likely the progress of the disease and the disappearance of short term memory and living in the past.

    Just another of the odd behaviours that we see.
  4. canary

    canary Registered User

    Feb 25, 2014
    South coast
    Hello @Alex111 and welcome to DTP.

    Ive not met this before and I am not certain what is happening, but I have a theory
    I know that memory is not just stored in one place, but in different areas in the brain depending on what sort of memory it is. Thats why people who have lost language can still sing the words to songs that they know. My mum could still recite poetry that she had learned - right up to the end.

    Im wondering whether the same thing is happening here. The area for language has been damaged by the dementia, so she is accessing a different part of the brain that still remembers French.
    I may be wrong
  5. Lawson58

    Lawson58 Registered User

    We were planning on moving to a Spanish speaking country in 2005 so we started using a Spanish language program so that we would be able to have some basics on arrival.

    When we arrived we discovered that most of the people spoke a dialect that was almost unintelligible even to native Spanish speakers who were appalled at how the locals 'abused' their mother tongue.

    We returned to Australia in 2007 and even now, all these years later, he still listens to the Spanish language program every night at bedtime.

    He often answers the phone in Spanish especially if we have been having a spate of scam calls. But he has also walked into a cafe and requested his coffee in Spanish. When I asked him why he did this he simply replied that it was because he could!

    So maybe it gives your mum a sense of empowerment, doing something that she thinks she can do but that stems from her youth.
  6. Helly68

    Helly68 Registered User

    Mar 12, 2018
    My mother, who hasn't spoken french for at least 40 years, said to me the other day, apropos of nothing, "Ou est les enfants?" and then tried to start a few more sentences in french.

    I have, since then taken to throwing in the odd "Comment ca va?" to which she replies a rather confused "Oui, ca va bien". She can't answer other questions, like how old are you, but I think she does understand the french. Very odd. I think Canary is right and she just accesses different parts of the brain and as her language is failing, and she is very upset at losing it, she will seize on anything....
    My sister, who is bilingual in french and English is visiting soon, it will be interesting to see if she can get any further with Mummy in terms of french conversation. My french is almost non existent.
  7. Jaded'n'faded

    Jaded'n'faded Registered User

    Jan 23, 2019
    High Peak
    I've heard of people with brain injuries doing similar things - speaking with an accent, etc.

    With PWD remembering songs, etc, I think the mechanism here is the 'cue producing response'. When you can't remember, for example, the name of your old science teacher and your friend says, 'it begins with B,' and you remember instantly, or they might sing part of a little rhyme you used to say to this teacher and that would make you remember the name. In the same way, showing someone a photo can bring back the memory of something the person hadn't thought about for many years.So it is when a PWD hears music then is able to sing along, like being on autopilot, yet if you asked them the lyrics beforehand they wouldn't have a clue. The brain has all sorts of clever ways of retrieving memories.

    I've also heard it said that it isn't the memory that is lost but that the retrieval system is broken. The memories are still there but PWDs (and the rest of us sometimes!) struggle to access them.

    I often get frustrated with my memory because it seems you can't choose which things you want to remember! I have a mental block on the names of mum's carers (in her CH) and it's really embarrassing. (I think actually most of them are called Lisa...) I would really like to remember their names but for some reason I just can't seem to store the details in my memory. But I wonder if that's because my memory is chock full of useless stuff like song lyrics from the 70s/80s (even to songs I hate) and unbelievably - the phone number we had when I was 4 and the reg. numbers of several of the cars we had before I was 10. Now if I could just delete some of the useless stuff, maybe there would be room for things I really want to remember?

    My mum's speech is deteriorating yet she will still uses various French phrases in context. Her favourite is, 'ne touche pas!' :rolleyes:
  8. Alex111

    Alex111 New member

    Jul 16, 2019
    Thank you for all of these fascinating replies. All very interesting theories!
    I’ve had a hunch similar to Lawson58’s suggestion that it has something to do with self empowerment. Seems she is entirely unpersuadable to speak English, and I’ve wondered if this is a way of saying, ‘look, you all boss me around all day and you can’t control this!’. To which I say, good on ya, Mum.
    But also like theory that it’s a symptom of losing language faculties and switching to seemingly easy (though usually terrible!) French is actually her brain accessing a ‘spare’ set of language skills somewhere up in there.
    Anyway, thanks to all. Please keep thoughts coming!
  9. Helly68

    Helly68 Registered User

    Mar 12, 2018
    I think some things are about the way you learned them. My mother regained some function after a traumatic surgery and we knew this because she completed a shakespeare quote I started, suddenly one day, after barely communicating at all.
    I think this was because she wanted too - like Alex 111 - "I am going to do this" - and because she rote learned lines for plays at drama school and rather like repeating times tables or poetry, this sort of learning can "stick".
    She and other residents in her unit really enjoy an activity where the co-ordinator calls out quotes, lines from songs, sayings,radio catch phrases and the residents say the next line.
  10. Guzelle

    Guzelle Registered User

    Aug 27, 2016
    My friends Grandma was born in Germany but had lived in England since her late teens. When she went into the care home suffering with dementia she would only speak German. Her daughter was the only one who could understand her!
  11. Lawson58

    Lawson58 Registered User

    I think the interesting thing about my husband and his Spanish is that he started learning it in his later years, not as a child. Looking back there were already little red flags about dementia occurring around that same time but the interesting thing is that his long term memory is one of his biggest issues. His short term memory is only beginning to fail him which is why I wondered about self empowerment.

    I don't know how anyone can stand playing the same set of language CDs over and over for years on end. I bought him a couple of different programs (mainly to save my sanity) but he never uses them. It's always the same one. His accent is absolutely atrocious too but as no one has to understand him it doesn't really matter.
  12. Marnie63

    Marnie63 Registered User

    Dec 26, 2015
    My mum, in the last couple of years of her life reverted back to the language of a country she lived in as a young woman, though she had regularly used the language during the rest of her life, Fortunately I understood! Her native tongue wasn't English either. But, even at 92 with very advanced Vascular Dementia, she could switch through the three languages when prompted. It just confirms what a complex thing the brain is. No walking, full incontinence, extreme confusion, yet still the ability to switch between three languages.

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