You’re at a party in the middle of telling a story about your favorite childhood toy, but you can’t for the life of you come up with its name.
“Oh, what’s it called?” you ask yourself as you rummage around in your brain.
This classic tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is something most people experience occasionally. For some usually frustrating period of time, a word that is stored in long-term memory refuses to be grabbed and recalled. Most people know they know it and have access to some aspect of the target word while in this state, like its meaning, the first letter, or the number of syllables.
“I know it begins with the letter K.”
Eventually, either through concentrated effort, bumping into the right associations, or when no longer consciously focusing on hunting it down, the word magically surfaces.
The average twenty-five-year-old experiences one to two tip-of-the-tongues a week. And the frequency of this normal phenomenon does increase with age. But for someone with Alzheimer’s, missing words interfere far more often and typically don’t offer helpful clues. These missing words aren’t so much on the tip of the tongue, ready to spit themselves out. They’re hiding somewhere deep in the brain. For someone with Alzheimer’s, this difficulty with recalling the names of everyday names and objects is called “anomia.”
Here’s where the concept of ‘exercising your brain’ or cognitive retraining can be extremely helpful. If you’re experiencing anomia and having trouble getting to the word KALEIDOSCOPE because amyloid beta goo is blocking the main roads to it, then having other, goo-free roads that lead to KALEIDOSCOPE can help you.
If you only have two neurons that have learned to connect to the word KALEIDOSCOPE and those two connections become jammed, then the word is inaccessible. Forgotten. But if you have ten neurons that have made connections to the word KALEIDOSCOPE, then those two gooey pathways can be detoured. The main roads that had always been the quickest routes are blocked, so it may take a longer time to retrieve the word, but you can still get there.
So the more connective neural roads you build to a piece of information, the more likely it is that you’ll still be able to get to that piece of information as some of your roads become impassable.
“Childhood toy” is blocked.
“Tube containing mirrors and pieces of colored glass or paper” is blocked.
Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Girl with the eyes:
Lisa Genova, Ph.D., author of STILL ALICE, www.StillAlice.com