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Trouble Finding that Word? Might Be Another Symptom of MS: Learn Strategies to Help

November 10, 2020

Word-finding - when a person knows and understands a particular word, but has difficulty retrieving it and using it in their speech – was the most common cognitive complaint in a new study of people with MS diagnosed within the past five years.
  • Changes in cognitive functions are common in MS. Information processing (dealing with information gathered by the five senses), is often affected. This study points to effects on verbal fluency, also known as word-finding. For most people, the changes in cognitive function are mild, but in some, the changes in cognitive function will be more challenging.
  • New York City-based researchers compared two groups of people with MS diagnosed within the past five years (totaling 240 people) and compared the results to a group of 50 people without MS. They looked at cognitive changes using objective measures, participants’ reports of difficulties, and brain imaging scans of tissue damage.
  • The results showed that word-finding difficulty was the most common cognitive complaint among people with MS, and the only complaint reported more by people with MS than healthy controls. Word-finding problems also correlated with test results and with imaging findings that pinpointed damage to a specific area of the brain.
  • What are some strategies for improving your ability to find the right word?
    • Cue yourself: Describe the word – “it’s a type of…”
    • Visualize it – try to imagine a picture of what you are thinking of.
    • Choose the next best word to express what you are thinking of.
    • Ask for help.
    • If you can retrieve the word, repeat it to reinforce it.
  • Read more about cognitive changes and MS, and talk to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about cognitive problems. Cognitive rehabilitation programs are available that teach strategies to restore function or to compensate for cognitive changes.
 “Word-finding difficulty is a prevalent disease-related deficit in early multiple sclerosis” by Rachel Brandstadter, James F Sumowski (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), and colleagues is published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal (2020, Vol. 26(13) 1752–1764).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.


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