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The 5 A's of Alzheimer's Disease: Anomia

Posted by on 3/4/2015 to Communication Tips

There are five A symptoms seen with patients with Alzheimer's disease: Anomia, Apraxia, Agnosia, Amnesia, and Aphasia. This is part one of five about these symptoms and discusses Anomia.

Anomia - A Misfire in Communication Ability with Dementia

Anomia means just what you might think - 'without name' and is a difficulty in communication.

It can also be thought of that "Tip of the Tongue" phenomena, when that word you are searching for eludes you. For a healthy person, the word will eventually come to you. But for  the person with dementia, that word usually does not come,  as the brain message misfires. The cause is damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, where the language controls are.  An example of anomia is a person who is starting to wash dishes and is looking for the dish soap, but cannot think of the right word for that object. 

Instead of "Where is the dish soap?", you might hear "Where is the...um...um... wash?"

The person knows what item they need and have the right idea of what that item does (i.e. wash) but just cannot find the correct word.  Instead the person substitutes the closest they come up with, by asking for the "wash".

It can be like listening to a person speaking halted English or a young toddler who only knows some of the right words, leaving you to fill in the blanks.  In all situations, in can be very frustrating for the person trying to communicate something but coming up short.

So how can caregivers around the person help?  Try these tips to help solve the struggles of anomia.

  • Understand the person will have moments like this and be patient. Give the person time - sometimes the right word will come, especially if the person is not feeling pressured.
  • If the person is obviously not finding the right word, help them out.  Watch the gestures they might be using. For the example above, the person might be pointing at the sink of dishes.
  • If you have asked a question, such as "What do you want for a snack?" and the person cannot find the right word, open the cupboard and show the choices so the person can point at it.
  • If you know the person struggles with anomia, do not ask open-ended questions but instead give 2 or 3 choices. For the example above, try:
"Would you like crackers, yogurt, or pretzels?", showing the person, as needed.

With  your new understanding of the symptom of anomia and strategies you can use to address it, you will be able to make communication more smooth for the person. And you will avoid frustration for both the patient and yourself.

Get More Tips for Communication with the Person with Dementia



Date: 3/10/2015
Give 2 choices. Once they decide on one then add the third. We deal with cookies after lunch and dad can only chose between two at a time.
Monica from MindStart
Date: 3/27/2015
Good suggestions, Lisa, on how to narrow choices down. Thanks for your comment.
Date: 1/16/2019
I agree with the limited choices. I work with Dementia patients and it's overwhelming when offered too many choices at once. It adds to the confusion. See with meals. Too many sides on a plate with the main course is too distracting and confusing .

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