We examine the syntactic structures exhibited by persons with dementia in conversation. Traditionally, research on the linguistic abilities of persons with dementia is either observational (reports kept by caregivers) or experimental (e.g. based on comprehension tasks), and the focus is not on the syntactic competence of the speaker. We combine insights from corpus-based syntactic analysis with methods from interactional approaches. Our close syntactic analysis of the talk of 20 persons diagnosed with dementia and their non-impaired co-participants document both grammatical accuracy and the range of linguistic complexity produced as compared to patterns reported in studies of non-impaired speakers. We note the selection of complex grammatical structures (i.e. verbal arguments) is largely a consequence of the interaction rather than evidence of linguistic decrement. We report on the most pertinent of these interactional influences. Our findings support strategies that promote complex linguistic and interactional talk with persons diagnosed with dementia. We believe that these strategies will help increase the interactional opportunities that are lacking as reported by and about persons residing in an assisted living facility (Brooker 2011).

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