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What is Lethologica?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lethologica is a condition in which someone cannot remember words, key phrases, and names. This results in an inability to express or articulate thoughts, which can be extremely frustrating for the patient. This condition is believed to be psychological in origin, although there is some evidence that there is a neurological component as well. There are no treatments, although some patients can develop coping skills which help them manage their memory loss.

The key feature of this condition is that it is temporary. The patient has not forgotten the information forever, experiencing instead momentary forgetting and confusion which make it hard to speak or convey key information. The duration of the temporary memory loss can vary, depending on the patient and the setting. Bouts of lethologica seem to be brought on by stress, including stress from being in a tense social situation, as well as intense physical exercise.

Some people may experience secondary symptoms in addition to lethologica. As they try to remember the thing that they cannot bring to mind, they may smack their lips or make other movements with the mouth. Likewise, some patients experience trouble swallowing. Different triggers can lead to a spell of forgetfulness, depending on the patient.

The temporal lobe is the area of the brain which appears to be involved in lethologica. Responding to stress is a psychological aspect; responding to exercise, however, is physiological, suggesting that multiple systems may be at play. Some patients also experience neurological impairment, as for example in the cranial nerves.

For many patients, forgetting words for a few moment is not a major concern, especially if friends and family are aware and they know to be patient while they wait. In other cases, patients may want to develop alternate communication systems so that they can express their thoughts even when they lack the specific words they need. Some people with conditions which may inhibit expression find it useful to carry cards which they can hand to people to quickly familiarize them with the issue.

Friends and family of someone with lethologica may want to ask about how she or he wants to be accommodated. Some people, for example, may be receptive if people attempt to fill in their sentences or find the word they are looking for. Other people may prefer to be allowed to find the word on their own, without assistance, and to be able to signal when they do want help.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon996321 — On Aug 12, 2016

I'm almost certain I have this, and I'm so glad I finally have something I can point to as the reason words pop out of my head so often!

The only additional thing for me is the inability to draw up the definition of the word. It becomes impossible for me to even describe the word I'm looking for, which means others who are trying to help often have an extremely difficult time doing so.

By anon940661 — On Mar 19, 2014

I never had a word for this until a friend posted it, along with its definition on facebook. I looked it up, and the description sounded exactly like what I experience when having a conversation.

It feels similar to tip-of-the-tongue in the sense that I know I know the word, but it's definitely not the tip-of-the-tongue, because unlike it, the word I need always feels far away, like I can never reach it if I keep thinking about it, and the harder I think, the further away it goes, along with a strange sensation in my head that I still can't describe. It's not an emotional sensation, and not painful either. It's just a sensation. I have to stop and wait a while to remember a word. It could be between a few seconds to a few months before it decides to pop itself in my head. (The month-long ones only happen if I don't bring up the topic I was talking about initially, and the word tends to be a word that is unique to the topic).

All of the words I've forgotten so far are keywords. Keywords and names. It's never small, common words with me. To get around it, I try using synonyms or use the long way of expressing myself by using definitions and examples.

By anon934955 — On Feb 22, 2014

I'm not sure if I have this, or if I just have bad memory or what. I normally have a very large vocabulary that friends and family often comment on, but the moment I'm under stress, I suddenly seem to forget very simple words and am unable to communicate my point. It kills my grades on any sort of presentation.

It also happens a lot when I'm just talking to friends, though far less often, most commonly with names of people that I have known for years.

My dad often has similar episodes, and there is a family history of Alzheimer's. Is that related, or just coincidence? Does what I am describing sound like Lethologica, or am I just self-diagnosing myself like so many on the internet?

By anon337005 — On Jun 02, 2013

I'm going to school to be a teacher and I think I have this. It's so embarrassing that I feel I am going to sabotage my career. I can type and write because I take my time thinking, but when I talk, sometimes I can't find the easiest words. I feel so stupid most of the time that I would rather not talk. Need help!

By anon125936 — On Nov 11, 2010

I didn't know there was a name for this until it popped up on my 'Word A Day' app. Looked it up and found this post, (actually, I couldn't remember the word lethologica, I had to look up the definition.)

I have a large vocabulary, including words from several classic languages - but when I speak, most of that disappears.

Half of the time I try to describe a word, using its definition, I also forget the simpler words that entails. It is so frustrating I prefer not to speak most of the time and hate talking on the phone where people are less patient with long silences.

Only while writing, which allows me the time to look words up via definition or thesaurus, do I feel like my vocabulary is fully utilized and confident in being able to get my point across.

I will have to talk to my therapist about this. I didn't realize it could point to a disorder. Thank you for your informative post.

By anon102076 — On Aug 06, 2010

I think I might have this. When I am talking to someone I usually forget simple words and have to stop to try and remember them. Most of the time I know what I'm going to say in my head but then when I say it out loud it comes out all jumbled up. Sometimes if there is someone else talking or the tv is on, I replace words by mistake with what they are saying.

I have trouble remembering things and people usually point out to me that I had already said something to them, usually a joke or a question. But I can remember the weirdest things better than the most important things.

I usually have very random dreams that involve flying, exercise, characters from TV shows and villains. One I had last night was I was following a character from a TV show and he went on a boat that left before me. So I got onto a dodgy looking boat and there were two men on it. One of them said he had a bomb so I flew out of the boat and watched as my town was destroyed.

All my dreams are based at night time and have an orange glow.

Also I suffered from GID when I was young.

By anon77322 — On Apr 14, 2010

in the past few days i experienced that i forgot my dreams. i can't even remember what was going on. this thing worries me a lot. am i suffering from lethologica.

By thepfam5 — On Mar 25, 2010

This is me! I put a hairpin in an electrical outlet when I was a toddler and I suspect it has ruined my memory. I don't know. I am considering a brain scan/electrode test to see what areas are firing, etc.

I have learned a lot about ADD, learning disabilities, Bipolar, allergies, etc. and I believe they are linked to my behavior and quality of life.

Lethologica is interesting and now part of my journey.

By nowisernow — On Mar 21, 2010

Neither Sheila nor I had encountered this term before, despite private as well as hospital psych and icu/ED settings. We've certainly seen transient expressive aphasia, however. We'll be interested to know if anyone out here (Rocky Mountain region) is familiar with this, and the third party payment value of it as a diagnosis.

Thanks for the interesting post.

By anon72074 — On Mar 21, 2010

Thank you for this info. Not sure if what happens to me is the same thing but if this may add to your data. I have always had an exceptional memory. Was in car accident at age 59. Have no knowledge because of coma but was hit in head. I have a 'dent' in my front right forehead, but was told damage is on left frontal side.

I cannot think of correct names or words at times needed. Am too picky to use a 'near enough' word. Extremely annoying! I was told I have Traumatic Brain Injury.

By anon72065 — On Mar 21, 2010

if i may ask. i have been like going to school and since grade three i couldn't remember a thing up till high school and i got to start figuring out my school work when i had to resit for my final year in high school. What was wrong with me?

By motherteresa — On Mar 20, 2010

Interesting subject that I never knew about. I do know that when I am put on the spot, for example in school when the teacher used to test us, one student at the time and would drill us in front of the whole classroom, on some occasions my brain would simply stop working.

It happens in other situations when other people are present. It seems like the brain simply shuts down temporarily.

Most likely it is either out of fear or just discomfort in being on the spot.

I am not sure if this falls within lethologica classification, but it appears to be close to it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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