How significant is “gapping out” a face or an event?

  • Nearly anyone over the age of 50 has experienced some frustrating moments of memory lapse that younger society calls “gapping out,” and older society calls “senior moments.” These memory lapses, or slowed recall, can send some people into a panic, particularly if they have a relative with Alzheimer’s disease.


    Slowed recall, missing words, a face we can’t place out of context – those can be signs of the aging brain, but for most of us these are normal occurrences.

    One of the clearest articles I’ve read lately on the subject appeared recently on The article, titled “Senior Moments: A Sign Of Worse To Come?” was written by Richard Knox.

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    Knox points out that often we don’t remember simply because we aren’t paying attention. This is something I have no problem understanding. Discussions with people who are worried about the fact that they seem to misplace objects or forget names seem to increase among my friends as the years go by. With so much media focus on aging brains, and specifically Alzheimer’s disease, people worry. Generally, I’ll refer people to an article or two and reassure them that likely their problems are caused by not paying attention. Multitasking – something that our daily lives seem to demand of us whether we do it well or not – can be a huge culprit here.


    How often have you walked into the kitchen and forgotten whether you meant to go to the microwave or the refrigerator? If you relax, generally your brain “rights itself,” and you remember. The fact that you didn’t immediately connect the dots is due to the fact that your body was walking into the kitchen while on a sort of autopilot, while your higher brain was focusing on a knotty work or personal problem.


    Younger brains, being more efficient with some processes than older ones, can generally handle multitasking better than many aging brains, so when you were younger you may not have had as many moments when you forget what you were about to do. However, when stressed, even a younger brain can gap out.

    A quote from the NPR article states, “…much of the time, what people experience as a memory problem is really a not-paying-attention problem…A memory is made up of a lot of different pieces, stored in different parts of the brain...When you're paying attention to all those things, even on a subliminal level, these pieces help you remember…”


    Our memories do slow down with age

    After delivering the good news above, the article goes on to say, "What's common as people age is that the speed at which information can be retrieved on demand is slowed…”


    The article mentions several things that exacerbate sluggishness in aging brains including uncontrolled high blood pressure, poor sleep, excess alcohol and many common medications used to treat, among other ailments, asthma, depression and excess stomach acid.


    The article discusses “brain reserve,” which helps some of us function even with some damage due to aging. Apparently, brain reserve is not distributed evenly among us. Much of it is genetic. Education, both formal and the kind we get through living life well, can also help. So, keep learning new things. It may help and certainly can’t hurt.


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    Enemies of our brain reserve are, according to this article and many others I’ve read, loneliness, anxiety and depression. We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning – a purpose in life. This sense of purpose, which often includes socialization of some type, can have protective benefits.


    This NPR article, in my opinion gives hope to many of us in that we are encouraged to live our lives with socialization, exercise and other healthy activity rather than worrying about every senior moment we experience.


    Read the full article for more information, plus a quick sample visual memory test.


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Published On: April 14, 2011