Communication and word-finding

Communication is another thinking skill that we all use day to day.

Having difficulty finding a word and feeling it is ‘on the tip of your tongue’. We all tend to experience more of these ‘tip of the tongue’ moments as we get older.

However, occasionally people experience a significant word finding problem. This may result from damage to a specific area of the brain or may be due to problems in other thinking skills, such as the problems with attention, memory and thinking. It can also be harder to find the right words when we are tired, or in pain, or when feeling stressed. If you are experiencing word finding difficulties it is therefore likely that they will improve as your recovery continues.

Word finding difficulties can be distressing. If you can’t find the word you want to use you might struggle to communicate what you want to. It can also have a significant emotional impact – many people with word finding difficulties find frustrating, or embarrassing.

Unfortunately, the more under pressure or anxiety you feel, the less likely you are to be able to find the word you are looking for. This can lead to people with word finding difficulties to avoid conversations altogether. This might mean avoiding meeting new people, or seeing people you haven’t seen for a while, perhaps because of concerns about what others will think.

Our main tip is not to do this! If you avoid situations in which you may have word finding problems the most likely consequences are (i) that you may begin to feel lonely, and (ii) it could stop you finding good ‘ways around’ your word finding problems. So – keep talking!

Here are some other strategies you might find helpful when you can’t find the right word:


Explain what is happening:

Plan in advance a phrase you can use to explain the situation to people who do not know you well or may not be aware of the problem with words that you have. This might be something straightforward like:

I have trouble finding the word I’m looking for sometimes, please give me a moment

or more jokey       

I can’t find the word I want – it’s my brain playing tricks on me!


Take control and be Assertive:

  • Let people know you’ve had Covid and how it’s affected you;
  • Let people know you are feeling tired and that you may need to keep communication to a minimum;
  • Arrange interactions for when you are at your best;
  • Ask people to repeat themselves;
  • Ask people to give you more time;
  • Ask people to slow down.


Delay! Do not rush, take your time and slow down.
Be patient with yourself and keep calm.

Getting frustrated or worried only makes it less likely that you will eventually be able to find the right word. It might help to close your eyes and/or take a couple of deep breaths to help you relax if you find yourself getting worked up while trying to find a word.


Describe what you want to say

Instead of searching for the one word you are looking for, is there a phrase that you can use instead? For example if you were having trouble finding the word “holiday” you could say “a few days away from home” or “a week in the sun”, or something else that describes what you want to say. This is often easier than finding one specific word.


Use a related word

Often we can think of a related word – saying it might help you find the right one, or help the person you’re speaking to guess it (e.g. “do you know where we put the… not the lamps but the things that are like them… “, which might lead you to the word candles).


Act it out

You might be able to think of how you would use an object (e.g. ‘I can’t find my ___” [make the gesture of unlocking a door] to indicate the word ‘key’).  Use gestures – use your hands or body to act out the word, like charades.


Let it go

Sometimes, the more you try the harder it can be to think of the word you are after. If you move on and stop trying to think of it, you may find it pops back into mind.  Come back later – if you still can’t think of it then it’s okay to give up for now.


Use a first-letter cue

It can sometimes help to go through the letters of the alphabet (in your head), as when you reach the first letter of the word you are looking for it sometimes allows the whole word to spring to mind. Sometimes you might have a sense of what the first letter is, and saying this to the other person might help them guess the word you’re looking for.


Use Synonyms:

Try to think of an alternative word that means the same as what you are trying to say.


Other useful strategies:

  • Write it down or draw it – sketch a quick picture of what you are thinking of.
  • Look it up – Google/dictionary/thesaurus.
  • Narrow it down – give the general topic or category so the listener can try to predict.
  • Use predictive text apps on a phone or computer.
  • Practice in everyday life – have more conversations with friends and family.
  • Join support groups – seek emotional support and tips from others experiencing difficulties with communication.

Finally, remember that everyone knows what it’s like to occasionally struggle to find a word. They are unlikely to notice the problem as much as you do. Many people will be keen to help if you explain what is happening. Try to keep relaxed and use some of the strategies above.