Forgetting Words While Speaking: Possible Causes and Treatments

By 

Anju Mobin

 on February 28, 2022. 
Reviewed by 

Joel Taylor

A blackboard with the word Aphasia written on it in white chalk

Occasionally, we all face issues with not getting that right word at the right time. It's at the tip of the tongue, but you're not able to get it. The difficulty in recollecting the names of people or finding the right words to describe an experience can be frustrating.

If this happens frequently, it may point to an underlying condition called aphasia.

But aphasia is not simple as forgetting the right word as it manifests in different types and severities. If you find yourself switching sounds and saying "wishdasher" instead of "dishwasher," or you say "eggs" when you actually meant to say "chicken," or something entirely senseless such as "plate" instead of "dress," then brain damage is a real possibility.

Read on to know more about aphasia, its symptoms, causes, treatments, and more.

What Is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a memory disorder that affects communication and language but not the intelligence of an individual. Mostly caused by brain damage or disorders, aphasia may not only affect speech but also hamper understanding, reading, or writing (1).

Aphasia may vary from mild to severe depending on the type. The different types of aphasia are:

  • Expressive or Broca’s aphasia People are clear on what they want to express but are unable to find or say the correct words. Ability is limited to single words or short sentences (2).
  • Receptive or Wernicke’s aphasia Diagnosed in people with impairment in understanding, reading, and writing. Speech may be fluent and in long phrases but has no meaning (3).
  • Anomic aphasia Individuals face difficulty in naming people, objects, events, places, etc. It may be characterized as a word retrieval problem in adults, and sentences can be vague (4).
  • Global aphasia The most severe form of aphasia—characterized by poor comprehension and inability to receive or express information.
  • Primary progressive aphasia A rare degenerative form of aphasia that starts gradually and becomes severe over time. Language impairment is progressive and not curable. Speech therapies won't cure it, but they may help slow down the progression and make it manageable (5).

Symptoms of Aphasia

Symptoms of aphasia can manifest while talking, reading, writing, or even understanding.

Talking

  • Inability to think of the right words to say
  • Facing trouble in naming people, places, or even familiar things
  • Thinking one word but saying the other
  • Mixing up words when speaking
  • Using non-existent words such as "flawsome"
  • Difficulty in forming and speaking sentences

Understanding

  • Unable to comprehend what people say, especially with fast-talking or long sentences
  • Facing trouble in understanding group conversations
  • Difficulty understanding jokes

Reading/Writing

  • Difficulty in reading books
  • Trouble spelling words or writing sentences
  • Unable to do simple math or tell the time
  • Difficulty in reading or filling in forms

Causes of Aphasia

Aphasia is mainly caused by damage to parts of the left brain that control language abilities in an individual. Common causes include:

  • Stroke—the most common reason
  • Brain tumors
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Infection or swelling in the brain
  • Cognitive dementia, a neurological disorder
  • Other disorders that may affect speech as a result of brain damage include dysarthrias, dysphagia, and apraxia

Does Anxiety Cause Aphasia?

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress and can cause difficulty in finding the right words while speaking. For example, a sudden presentation may make you feel anxious. Glossophobia or signs of speech anxiety such as sweating, dryness in the mouth, high-pitched tone, and a racing heart may be experienced. While anxiety can worsen aphasia, it won't cause it.

Can You Treat Aphasia?

Absolutely!

Aphasia can be treated with a focus on improving speech, language, and communication skills in individuals, but its effectiveness is dependent on the severity of the condition. Read our tips for How to Improve Working Memory in Adults.

When individuals have aphasia and struggle to understand, write, and think of words to say, rehabilitation can help. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can provide linguistic training consisting of various exercises that improve reading, writing, and speaking skills (6).

In case of severity, other ways may be used for communication. Using flashcards to identify words and matching words to pictures or drawings may be used for easier understanding. The use of gadgets such as tablets, smartphones, and computers may help ease communication and expression.

How to Help Someone With Aphasia Improve Their Communication

Improving communication is important for people with aphasia. Some pointers to support and enhance communication include the following:

  • Maintain eye contact and focus
  • Ensure good body language and maintain a normal voice tone
  • Encourage forming or talking in short, simple sentences and completing them
  • Slow down during conversations and repeat key words patiently
  • Use drawings or pictures for clarity

Aphasia is a communication disorder that occurs with brain damage. The type and severity of aphasia can vary. Linguistic intervention may help improve or slow down the progression. Patience, gentle encouragement, and timely therapy can help make life better for individuals with aphasia.

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