Q:  I am having trouble with my words. I have started saying the wrong words and have trouble recalling the word I need. Is there something I can do to help this?

A:  Trouble with language can be caused by several different medical issues. Often it stems from a functioning problem within the brain. It is important to see a doctor and have an evaluation to understand what is causing these speech issues.

Typically, the left side of the brain houses the language abilities. When there is damage to this side of the brain it can cause these types of deficits. The right side of the brain may cause other problems including trouble paying attention or trouble with your memory.

Aphasia is a language disorder and may be what you are referring to with your language problems. Some of the symptoms include not being able to think of the word you want to say. It may mean you say the wrong word. For example, you think of the word desk in your head but when you speak you say the word table. You may find you use made up words or switch the sounds within words.  Aphasia stems from having brain damage which can be caused by a stroke, an injury or even a brain tumor. 

A doctor will evaluate the cause of the speech trouble and can refer you for testing with a speech and language pathologist. The good news is that there are ways they can treat these symptoms and help you communicate better.

It is helpful to share your concerns with close friends and family. You can talk with them about what you are experiencing and ask for their help in communicating with you. Suggest they make sure to have your attention before talking to you and maintain eye contact. You can explain that having a quiet place to talk without background noise will make understanding them easier for you.

You want to feel confident and comfortable in your conversations. Explain that you may need more patience and space to think of words. You can suggest they ask questions with yes or no answers if they find you struggling to respond. Ask for what you want as well. You may say that you prefer they wait and let you try on your own without them attempting to guess the word you are thinking of.

Aphasia has been in the news a lot lately as more famous people are opening up about their struggles with it, including Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Randy Travis. Millions of people suffer from this every year.

There are apps that can help, communication guides, and education available to you. You can learn more through the National Aphasia Association https://www.aphasia.org/ or at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aphasia/

Recall of words can be a symptom of a brain disease or a type of dementia. It can also be due to medications, stress, or a vitamin deficiency. Any time there are concerns about processing, language, or memory you want to start with a full medical assessment. The stress worrying that these symptoms could be due to a brain disorder can actually exacerbate your symptoms! It is important to understand the possibilities, but ultimately you need to find the answers specific to your medical needs and then decide on your next steps.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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