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My good friend what's-his-name.


All of us have probably undergone the embarrassment of a conversation in which we suddenly forget the name of someone we've just described as a good friend (or even a close relative). The older we get, it seems, the more frequent are these lapses of memory.

Having something "on the tip of the tongue" and not being able to get it out does not mean, however, that we are on the verge of dementia. Dementia has been defined as "a decline from a previously attained intellectual level ... more or less sustained in time, in months or years, rather than days or weeks. [There is], in almost all cases, significant deterioration of memory and of one or more intellectual functions such as language, orientation in time or space, judgment, and abstract thought."

Alzheimer's disease represents the most serious form of dementia, but it accounts for only half of the cases. Another 10 percent are the result of repeated small hemorrhages or blood vessel obstructions in the brain that are not large enough to produce noticeable damage, such as paralysis or slurring of speech. (These are the so-called "little strokes.") Depression may also cause memory loss, as may the use of drugs, such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills, or chemicals such as pesticides, lead, mercury, and other nonmedicinal substances.

Fortunately, for most of us, any age-related reduction in memory or mental agility falls into the category of "none of the above." The National Institute on Aging has found that healthy people have little change in mental function as they age. Indeed, as many as 20 percent of people show no detectable changes in mental function.

Rather than worry about the minor memory lapses that we all experience, therefore, try these ways of improving your memory:

(1) Write down the things to be done tomorrow, or whenever, instead of cluttering the mind with items of a transient nature.

(2) For the more important things you want to remember-names, numbers, etc.-make mental pictures that you can associate with them.

(3) When trying to learn something new, get rid of distractions such as background noise, or anything else that tends to draw attention away. Take a short break from time to time to attend to something else before resuming the intensive learning effort.

(4) Inject what you're learning into a conversation with someone else whenever feasible-walking about something helps to implant it more firmly in your mind.

Don't believe for a moment that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
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Title Annotation:memory lapses
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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