Published: Sept. 19, 2008
Updated: Apr. 15, 2010
By Carol Harbers
Treat your brain well and you may never again find yourself in that awkward position of trying to conjure up an acquaintance’s name at the supermarket.
That claim might be a bit optimistic, but there are things you can do to ward off such “senior moments” according to Murali Doraiswamy, MD, chief of biological psychiatry at Duke and co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan.
To begin with, says Doraiswamy, calling a short-term memory lapse a “senior moment” only perpetuates the negative -- and untrue -- stereotype that age inevitably leads to memory decline. He prefers the term, “‘wisdom moment’ -- because our brains also get wiser as we get older, so it’s not all bad.”
In fact, recent research shows that senior moments might simply be a reflection of the brain working to sort through its years of accumulated knowledge -- which is a good thing, because it means your brain has more information available to it.
Most people are only half joking when they refer to these lapses, because deep inside they fear something is wrong. Not necessarily, says Doraiswamy.
What doctors look for in memory health is a change from the usual. Forgetting where you put your checkbook once in a while is not worrisome; forgetting how to balance it is. Temporarily forgetting the name of an acquaintance is not unusual for most people, but forgetting the faces of familiar colleagues at work is.
Other red flags include forgetting how many grandchildren you have, what you ate last night, your ZIP code or area code, the name of your doctor, the names of the schools you attended, or what you read in the newspaper this week.
Doraiswamy says an important distinction is the inability to recall this information later, when you are not trying so hard, or when you are given cues. People with Alzheimer’s disease usually cannot recall information even given time or hints.
If you are concerned that memory loss is affecting your daily life, the best thing to do is see your doctor.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can start as memory lapses, but memory lapses don’t always lead to Alzheimer’s. Many things can cause unsettling memory lapses:
But these conditions are all treatable.
One of the most common causes of dementia is vascular illness and stroke, so stroke prevention is another good way to preserve your memory and mental function.