Dr. Dean

Why Is My Friend Speaking Gibberish?

Posting Date: 12/05/2000

Tracy: In the past few weeks, our close friend, who is in his mid-50s, has started to speak without making sense.

He wanted to move his chair at dinner and he said, "I'll be more comfortable if I move the mattress over there." He also asked me how long I'd been smoking tires.

This is rapidly getting worse. He has gone from being completely lucid to talking garbage. He had a doctor's appointment but he cancelled it.

Dr. Dean: He is experiencing a gross loss of mental function. He's got to see a neurologist immediately. The scary truth is that he could be headed for a stroke or have a brain tumor.

He is too young for Alzheimer's disease, but it can have an early onset. Also, another form of dementia -- vascular dementia -- is a possibility.

With proper diagnosis, he can very likely be successfully treated.

A person with dementia often uses the wrong word in place of the word he is looking for. Sometimes the word sounds like the one he wants, a process called "tip of the tongue phenomena." The brain mentally scans a list of words until it hits on one that sounds right.

A neurologist can easily ferret out the cause. Often they can diagnose a patient by having a simple conversation with him. They will hear little slips that go right past the rest of us, and are the clues to where the brain is malfunctioning.