Fast forward to last month, when a friend of mine had a stroke. In the 8 years it's been since my stroke, this was the first time I had someone I already knew that I could be an encouragement to in this area. The other day, I was visiting him, and he was telling me about how cold the back bedroom in his house gets because of poor insulation. For the life of him, he couldn't think of the word "insulation". Flashback to my grandma's missing words, and present-day reminders of my own missing words, and something clicked in my brain.
My friend was talking about insulation. Unless you are a general contractor or specialty house builder, how often do you talk about insulation? I'd wager not very often. So my theory is this: stroke people struggle more with words they didn't use very often before their stroke. Makes sense, right? Clearly, there are words I use every day that I sometimes grapple for, but for the most part, they are words that don't make it into my daily vocabulary.
So how can we improve this? My first realization was about my son. EJ was not quite 8 weeks old when I had my stroke, and while he does remember snippets of the hospital and my rehab from that time (I know, HOW?!?!?, right?), realistically speaking, I have been "this way" for his whole life. If there is anyone in the world who knows "stroke me" the best, it is EJ. Every day, all the time, so often in fact that I don't even notice it anymore, I will be talking and he will say a word for me. I continue, he says a word, rinse and repeat (without the rinsing). So my first thought was that everyone who has a stroke should go out and adopt a baby so in a couple years, he can easily supply their missing words! (My husband said to make sure they also adopt a husband to take care of said baby for first several years.)
I realize this will not be feasible for 99% of the population. So I kept brainstorming. Second to adopting a baby and relearning how to talk together, I came up with reading. If you read widely (aka, not stuff you normally would), "strange" words you don't use often will lodge themselves into your brain, making them more readily accessible when you need them. Something else I've found helpful that I think my husband would not suggest is watching TV. Now, if you watch the same thing over and over, it will wear down your memory centers and dementia will set in years earlier than it would have otherwise. This is a proven fact. But if you watch unpredictable, educational, interesting things, it helps exercise your brain for unusual thoughts and patterns. This keeps your brain elastic and strong, repairing and growing even.
I'm sure this will work for people who struggle with words for other reasons, but this is what I've come up with for me. (Also, time helps, if you make the effort to "be normal" again.)