Natalie: Sometimes I say the wrong word or forget what I was talking about. Is this because my brain is shrinking?
Professor Dawn Langdon, Neuropsychologist: Well, there’s quite a long line of connections and consequences between somebody at one moment perhaps just not able to find the right word and whether or not their brain’s shrinking. So there are lots of reasons why someone might not be able to find the right word. So everybody in normal life, whether they’re happy, healthy, got MS, whatever, will have times when they can’t find the right word. And if you watch, for example, the newsreaders or you watch someone being interviewed on television, you’ll see, if you watch carefully you’ll see that all these people who are running the country, they all forget their words at times, okay? So it’s something that happens to everyone, but to be fair it does happen slightly more to people with MS. So it might be a fatigue effect, and to be honest, I think that’s quite a strong influence.
It also, it might be that because people with MS, some of them understandably feel a little bit anxious or perhaps are a little bit kind of over-vigilant of any kind of glitches in terms of their function, when they find that perhaps the word isn’t there just the minute they want it, they perhaps start to sort of clam up and panic a little bit, and that in itself can jam you up. So if I started panicking now – I don’t know if I’m going to – but if I started panicking now, I would jam up. So there’s lots of things that can be happening that can stop your words that aren’t really a kind of direct brain atrophy issue, but it is true that, you know, in large groups of people with – over many years, you’re talking decades now – those people who have the most brain atrophy are likely to be the ones who will have the most word finding difficulties. But on an individual basis, on a day-to-day, having coffee, it’s probably not a direct link.
Natalie: Have you got any suggestions that we can do for the word blocking for MSers?
Professor Dawn Langdon: Okay, so some of the things are quite easy tips and tricks. So one thing is, don’t be afraid of pausing, okay? So most people don’t mind if you pause. Here’s an example. [pauses]. See what I mean? So it’s okay to pause, so even if that word isn’t there instantly just, you know, just take a second or two, just chill. So that’s one thing to do. Another thing to do is if the word you want isn’t exactly there, so supposing you’re in the florist and you’re trying to buy a chrysanthemum, and just that moment chrysanthemum isn’t a word you can come on, just don’t try and find it, just say to the florist, ‘I want the yellow one’. So if it’s kind of out of reach, don’t try and search for it, just try and find another way of saying it. And if you’re very fatigued or it’s a particularly bad day and you can’t find another way of saying it, say ‘I’m just going to come back to that later’. Just leave it, rather than sort of feel embarrassed. So they’re very easy things to do.
Another thing you can do is if you’ve got maybe a friend or a partner or a family member who knows that there are particular words that often sort of jam up for you or jam up more than others, maybe names of relatives, or that sort of thing, then there may be things you can do about remembering their names, little tricks and techniques to do with pictures and cartoons, which you can find stuff online about that. So particularly families, lots of people don’t like forgetting their family’s names; their nieces, their nephews, their grand… well, you’re not old enough to have grandchildren, but you know what I’m saying, yeah. But I mean there are people with MS who do have grandchildren and for them, that’s a particularly, quite bitter for them, quite upsetting that they can’t remember the family’s names. So it may be for those particularly important words that it’s worth putting a bit of time and effort in with someone you know who can sort of build up, you know, work with them to find ways to remember those words.
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Professor Dawn Langdon is Professor of Neuropsychology at Royal Holloway University of London, she is co-chair at BICAMS, her other areas of expertise focus on BRIMMS (benefits and Risks of MS medications. She has been the neuropsychological lead on multiple MS trials in the pharmaceutical industry. She is also a trustee of the UK MS Trust.