Saturday, April 5, 2008

Verbal fluency

Verbal fluency (VF) is defined as the ease with which a person can find the right word and use it at the right time. Verbal fluency tests generally involve a timed interval in which a person is asked to name as many animals (fruits, vegetables, words that start with Q, etc) as they can during that time.

I test my verbal fluency every day in the consultation room as I explain this, that, or the other medical condition to a patient with more or less ease. Progesterone definitely slows down my VF as does a lack of estrogen. Progesterone is known to have sedating effects on the brain, and my frontal lobe is clearly affected by my periodic use of Prometrium, a proprietary formulation of natural progesterone. A dose at bedtime gives me a great, dream-filled sleep but leaves me fumble-mouthed on the job the following day.

Likewise, estrogen has a strong influence on verbal memory, and some of my patients who choose to motor into menopause without HRT find their word-finding abilities seriously impaired. Estrogen supports the function of cholinergic neurons in the brain (those brain cells that communicate one to another via a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine). Cells in charge of verbal memory and executive functioning are cholinergic neurons and thus affected by lack of estrogen. Likewise, anticholinergic medication such as antihistamines (which are used as over-the-counter sleep aids) also can leave the user tongue-tied with respect to VF.

Not only does dementia cause decrease in verbal fluency, so often do head injuries (as the frontal lobe sitting just behind the forehead, is often first to hit the windshield in accidents), Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, diabetes, and alcoholism. Persons with chronic lung disease are known to have cognitive troubles whether or not they're running short on oxygen levels. Ohio investigators found that 20 minute exercise sessions significantly increased verbal fluency scores on patients with COPD.

1 comment:

Mauigirl said...

Hmmm, interesting. I've been having a lot more trouble thinking of the right word lately...and am in the beginning of menopause. Is this permanent??? Or does it pass once your body readjusts to lower estrogen? If it doesn't, I may ask for HRT!