One of the most frustrating, and embarrassing, things has to be those memory glitches that occur when you’re trying to recall information that you just can’t access. You may be having a conversation with someone and you’re trying to tell him or her the name of some actor in a movie or some product you saw on television. It seems like the words are right there – on the tip of your tongue so to speak – but it’s just beyond your grasp. You try harder and harder, but you just can’t retrieve it. Let me explain to you what I tell my patients about temporary memory loss and what you can do to minimize, or prevent, it from happening to you.
Memory Lapses: What Are They?
You’ve likely experienced glitches in your memory where you just cannot retrieve a piece of information like a name, or you forget where you put something or what you had to do. As you get older, these memory lapses can start to occur more frequently. They don’t necessarily mean that you’re experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, or some other neurodegenerative disease. Forgetting where you live, or where you are, or a family member’s face could, however, be warning signs of a more serious neurologic disease and warrant attention. Often times simpler memory lapses, like “tip of tongue” errors can be aggravated by stress, medications, lack of sleep, vitamin B12 deficiencies, even dehydration – all of which can accompany getting older.
New research out of the University of Michigan shows that these “tip of the tongue” memory errors occur most frequently between the ages of 65-92 – in about 61% of people. Many of the study participants also reported having other memory lapses such as having to re-read a sentence twice because they had forgotten what it said, or where they put something, or what they went into a room for.
What Can You Do About These Memory Errors?
The findings of this study, the researchers concluded, could help shape brain-training programs designed to deal with these everyday memory glitches that people experience. Focusing on creating daily routines that can avoid many of these memory errors could help an older person stay independent.
In other research out of the University of Bern, Switzerland and the University of Michigan, “exercising” the brain by learning tasks helps stimulate “working memory”. Working memory helps you store and manipulate information that is critical to abstract thinking and problem solving.
Tasks that involve working memory help build “fluid intelligence” – one of the most important factors in learning that helps you solve new problems without regard to what you already know. Working memory tasks can help improve memory even in people above age 80. Examples of working memory tasks include things like:
- Doing a crossword puzzle
- Learning a new language
- Learning a new task – such as changing the oil in your car
- Taking a different route to work or to the grocery store
- Learning a new word every day and putting it into use in conversation
Other things you can do to prevent tip-of-tongue memory lapses include taking better care of your physical health. These include:
- Maintain optimum nutrition. Be sure to get enough high DHA and Omega-3 rich foods like fish at least 3 times a week. Supplement with 400 mcg of B12 as everyone past the age of 40 cannot absorb B12 very well through their intestines. Supplement with Omega-3 fish or krill oil.
- Eat protein-rich, low refined sugar meals. Eat every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar levels steady.
- Sleep at least 6-8 hours every night. Nothing robs memory like lack of sleep.
- Keep stress and anxiety at bay. Exercise to burn off stress and normalize blood sugar.
- Watch your medications. Certain prescription medications (statins, antianxiety drugs, etc) as well as over-the-counter drugs (antacids, antihistamines) can cause memory loss. If you experience frequent memory issues while taking any of these, ask your doctor about changing your treatment.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Memory glitches often occur when we’re anxious. Learning how to relax through deep breathing techniques, and regular exercise to relieve general stress, will help prevent stress-related memory fall outs.
- Stay well-hydrated. Your brain is over 80% water. If your body becomes dehydrated, your brain, mood, and memory suffer. Drink half your weight in water every day.
Though tip-of-tongue memory glitches are fairly common for any age, they not only are frustrating and embarrassing, but they could even create negative consequences for you. You might not pass an exam or do very well in job interviews if high anxiety levels, or a nutritional deficiency, causes your memory to stall. Keep your body healthy, minimize stress, and challenge your brain with new tasks to help minimize, or prevent, these types of memory errors.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Answer isn’t always on the “tip of the tongue” for older adults, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120615204739.htm
Exercise Your Brain To Enhance Memory, Prevent Mind Lapses, http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2012/03/keep_your_brain_fit.htm
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