When Words Escape

Close up of the word "Word" on a dictionary page

Being unable to find the right word happens to everyone. When it happens to people who don’t have aphasia, it’s called “Tip of the Tongue Phenomenon.” When it happens to people with aphasia, it’s called anomia, or word-finding difficulty. Anomia is common with aphasia. Understanding why a person has a word-finding problem is important when planning treatment.

Here are some tips for finding the word you want to say:

  • Pause and give yourself time to think.
  • Take a deep breath before trying a word-finding strategy.
  • Close your eyes and think of a visual image of the word or item.
  • Say the first letter of the word.
  • Search through the alphabet letter by letter if you can’t think of the first letter 

Think about the physical features of what you are trying to talk about and use that to describe it:

  • Size (Is it big or small?)
  • Shape (Does it have legs? Is it round? Is it long or short?)
  • Color (Is it one color or different colors?)
  • Describe the use of the word (if it is a noun) or who does it (if it is a verb).
  • Provide any information you know about the word. For example, if you can’t think of the word “dog,” you might say “the thing that barks.” This is called circumlocution.
  • Think of a word that rhymes with the target word.
  • Write letters or other information about the word.
  • Gesture to pantomime the word.
  • If you know the topic of conversation in advance, write some key words that you may want to say or that may give you cues to other words.
  • Tell your communication partner that you have aphasia and may need some help finding words.

Be gentle with yourself and know that sometimes the word will come and sometimes it won’t. Either way, continue to communicate with your family and friends.