Word-finding is a common, and often annoying, problem. Almost every head-injured person has this problem to some degree. Head-injured people may talk normally; speech flows evenly and it's easy to understand. But they'll have this very odd problem--they'll know the word they want to say but just can't come up with it. Professionals call this "anomia," which means "can't name". Everyone has an occasional anomia; those with a head injury have it frequently. It is particularly annoying if you are dealing with people all day long. For example, it will stand out if you've got to give a lecture to 100 people and you stumble over words. You develop poor self-esteem because you're just not sure of what you're saying anymore. A variation on this problem is that you say the wrong word. Instead of saying, "pass me the spoon", you might say "pass me the noon." Or, instead of using a similar sounding word, you may use an entirely wrong word. Instead of "pass me the spoon," you may say, "pass me the car." You may not even recognize that you said the wrong word until people point it out to you.
A speech/language pathologist is a professional who commonly works with this type of problem. This person can teach you techniques to decrease this problem. For example, you can use a technique called "circumlocution." Basically, you "talk around" the word. If you can't come up with the word "telephone," you might say "you dial it, you can put a quarter in it, you can call people." People eventually get what you were trying to say. Another technique that people sometimes use is to go through the alphabet and try to get the first letter of the word. (The word "telephone" begins with a T--which is near the end of the alphabet--so that might take a while.) Or you can visualize spelling the word. Visualize a blackboard and try to "see" someone writing the word on the blackboard. Then read the word off the blackboard. Depending on the type of injury you have, one of these techniques may be helpful to you. Seeing a Speech Language Pathologist or other head injury specialist is a way to get help for this problem.
By Dr. Glen Johnson, Clinical Neuropsychologist
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