04/02/2003 - Questions and Answers

Word-finding difficulties

By: Mark Castleden

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Question

My father seems to be in good physical health but has occasional problems expressing himself. Sometimes he uses the wrong word for something, or the word comes out all jumbled. What is the reason?

Answer

Problems with speech may be caused by difficulties in voice production, which may result from weakness of the palate or tongue muscles, or simply ill fitting dentures. They may also occur with intellectual impairment and some language abnormalities seen in psychiatric diseases. Difficulties such as you describe, e.g. in finding the right word, are more likely to be due to a central neurological defect.

A doctor would need to know when the problems occur. If the problems are intermittent only, do they occur when your father is tired or stressed, or is there some other particular association? Does your father have perfect comprehension, at the time of the problems and/or in general. Can he name objects when you ask him to? Is his writing disturbed and/or is his reading disturbed?

It is most unlikely that his problem is due to age alone, and it is more likely to be due to some problem that is associated with ageing, such as atherosclerosis and perhaps a small infarct. Speech therapy may be entirely appropriate.

Other causes which may be reversed are alcohol problems or some medications, or just tiredness.

Created on: 05/24/2000
Reviewed on: 04/02/2003

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