Purpose – This paper aims to demonstrate how fundamental social and psychological drivers can affect the language used by people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and their carers.
Design/methodology/approach – A theoretical model is used to predict four ways in which communicative priorities in a given context will generate formulaic linguistic responses in interaction. Evidence from the language of both people with AD and their carers illustrates each point. Moreover, the model offers an explanation for several effective approaches for improving interaction.
Findings – The paper explains the dynamics of a downward spiral in interaction that features more and more “formulaic” language, and indicates how carers can help create a context for greater empowerment of people with AD.
Practical implications – Since people with AD need the stimulation of meaningful and targeted interaction, the downward spiral arising from carers' formulaic responses is potentially damaging. To improve the quality of communication between people with AD and their carers, the negative impact of formulaic language in interaction needs to be transformed into something more positive and productive. Indications are offered for how this can be achieved.
Originality/value – The paper offers significant new insights into the causes of the well‐recognised patterns of repetitive language in people with AD, and explains how they can trigger unhelpful responses in carers. The theoretical underpinning offers opportunities for understanding how best to support carers in engaging more positively with people with AD, resulting in a richer type of communication for the latter and reduced stress levels for the former.