Alzheimer’s disease takes away language in pieces, not all at once. You may think of people with that disease as being mute, but in the early stages, many people with Alzheimer’s are not mute at all. For some, their gift of gab can help reassure themselves and others that they aren’t quite gone.
In my grandmother’s case, I’m not sure how much to attribute her unusual language to the disease. I think she always used unusual, colorful language. I know my mother always did. I know the uncles/poets in the family always have. It’s hard to get a straight answer out of them sometimes.
But my grandmother’s speech was probably made more colorful at times by her inability to remember the conventional words for things. So she needed to come up with the unconventional word, any word that might serve her purposes.
When I say colorful language, I don’t mean of the nautical variety. She didn’t swear like a sailor. (Mrs. Watson says if her mother had ever heard her using that sort of language, she would have had part of her skin removed.) I think she sometimes used a few mild oaths, but not like her children do.
No, my grandmother loved poetry, and had written some verse of her own, when she was much younger and more confident. She loved language, and loved variety in language.
She would often call me “Children”, even though I’m her grandson and middle-aged. I think it was one of her quiet, persistent delusions, that there were children around the house still, even though they had been gone for thirty years.
We tried to get her to stay up as late as she could, and to eat as much as she could, knowing that weight loss in the elderly is linked to approaching death. But eventually, she would tell us she could eat no more, and always with a fresh simile:
“I’m as full as a stuffed piggy.”
“I’m as full as a stuffed sock.”
“I’m as full as a stuffed pillow.”
Once she complained to me, “Children, I feel like I’m nine… er, like I’m one hundred years old.” She had caught herself. She was ninety years old.
But the all-time language winner came one night after we finally allowed her to collapse into bed.
“Children, your care for me is beyond human endurance.”
Thank you, Grandma. It’s good to be appreciated.