Friday, March 23, 2012

On the Tip of My Tongue

Photo by mademoiselle lavender
“Oh, she was in Gone with the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire. Don’t tell me. I’ll think of it. . . Vivien Leigh!”

People of all ages have trouble retrieving names at times. However, as we age, this phenomenon occurs more frequently. 

Neurologists and speech language pathologists have numerous explanations for memory problems.  Some are a result of injury or disease.  Others are merely the result of healthy aging.    Retrieving a name is just one small aspect of memory.

It’s usually part of healthy aging to sense that retrieval of a name is imminent but not forthcoming.  Numerous theories exist for explaining specifically what causes these mental blocks. 

Although described earlier by William James and other psychologists, it wasn’t until 1966 that the research team of Roger Brown and David McNeill published an empirically based study that dubbed this frustrating memory problem “Tip of the Tongue Syndrome” or TOT.

In her book Communication and Swallowing Changes in Healthy Aging, Angela N. Burda makes this observation:
TOT experiences increase with age and most frequently when recalling proper names and infrequently used words. . . . TOT experiences are often resolved by a “pop-up.” This is when the target is recalled suddenly and spontaneously at a time when one is not actively engaged in retrieval attempts. . . . Resolution time for TOT experiences takes longer in older adults.  Heine Ober, and Shenaut (1999) found that adults aged 80-92 resolved almost all TOT experiences when allowed enough time to do so;  however, in some cases this took several hours.
People should take comfort in knowing that time usually resolves the memory block for Tip of the Tongue syndrome.   But if you want more strategies for improving word retrieval, consider the following:
  • removing distractions
  • allowing yourself time
  • maintaining a good diet
  • keeping hydrated
  • getting enough sleep
  • engaging in regular exercise
  • managing stress
  • focusing on one task at a time
If you have concerns about your memory because they are persistent or because the onset is very sudden and/or the change is pronounced, you should see a licensed health care professional. 
Published 2015

Edited to Add: I have since read Ruth Curran's book about brain health. She suffered a traumatic brain injury during a car accident, and after her neurologist pronounced her sufficiently healed, she earned a master's degree focused on cognitive psychology so that she could further sharpen her cognition. 

Her book shares practical information about how anyone can improve brain health by doing a range of exercises based on integrated the senses with "uploading" information to and reinforcing information within the brain. 


Is It Dementia or Delirium?
Age-Related Changes to How We Write
Basic Brain Books (midlife cognition, neuroplasticity)
Modify Conversation with Older Adults As Needed

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