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'Senior moments' are normal

If you're a person of a certain age, there's a good chance you know about a particular phenomenon: the "senior moment."

Try as you might, you just can't pull a fact or detail from your mind. What's the name of your neighbor's daughter? (Or your neighbor's name, for that matter?) Where did you put your keys? What did you go to the kitchen for?

People of all ages have mental glitches, but they seem to increase with age. That makes many worry that something is wrong.

In some cases, these "senior moments" could be a sign of trouble. But Long Island physicians say they're usually nothing to worry about and just a sign that the older brain doesn't work as quickly and efficiently as it used to.

"As you get older, it takes more time and effort to get into your memory bank to retrieve information," said Dr. Corradino Lalli, a geriatric specialist in Smithtown and director of the internal medicine department at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. "People will remember, but you've got to have extra time, and your learning is slower. You have to work harder at it."

Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, likens the process to when a computer temporarily freezes because of an overload: "The information, if properly saved, will be retrieved as soon as the computer gets a chance to access the data," she said.

Stress and other factors can make it even harder to remember things. "Grief, sleep deprivation, medications -- both prescription and over-the-counter -- multi-tasking, anxiety and depression can all affect one's memory," said Darlene M. Jyringi, a gerontologist and program director at the Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center of Long Island, a program of the Stony Brook School of Medicine.

But if you -- or your loved ones -- think you've become too forgetful, check in with your doctor because it's possible that you could have a condition known as mild cognitive impairment, Jyringi said. People with the condition have noticeable problems with things such as memory or language but can still function in daily life, she said. Some will develop dementia, also known as senility.

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"If you have someone who completely doesn't remember whole segments of things or can't even tell you whether they ate or did not eat today, you've crossed the line into something potentially more serious, like dementia," Lalli said. "They may also have other deficits where they're not taking care of themselves and can't do any sort of planning."

So can you protect the brain? Lalli said that people who retain their mental powers into old age are often open to doing things that challenge the brain. Research has shown promising results about the value of such activities as doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, reading the newspaper, learning a new language or skill, and socializing, he said.

It's also important to stay healthy on a physical level by exercising and controlling any chronic conditions, such as diabetes, Lalli added. But he said that medical research has been sketchy about the value of supposed brain boosters such as vitamin E and Ginkgo biloba.

Lalli, 60, said that he makes a point of reading about topics like theology and philosophy when he's not keeping up on medical research "something that's as far away from medicine as I can get."

But for those who have the occasional senior moment and forget something such as a person's name, Wolf-Klein said to simply "take a deep breath, move on to another task, change the conversation. Chances are the name will just happen to pop back up into your mind."

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