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Duke Health Briefs: Variety of Factors May Contribute to Memory Loss and "Senior Moments"

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Frustrating incidents of forgetfulness seem to occur more often as people age. Throughout the day people often forget little things: "Where did I leave my keys? Who was it I was supposed to call? What does this scribbled yellow note mean, anyway?"

As people age, these sorts of memory lapses or "senior moments" can become commonplace, and many in the baby boom generation simply chalk it up to advancing years. But Heidi White, M.D., assistant professor of geriatric medicine at Duke University Medical Center, says age isn't the only factor in memory loss.

"If people are noticing changes in their memory and thinking, they really should mention it to their doctor," White says. "Sometimes, there are simple things that can be investigated to find an answer to why that may be happening."

White says among the possible causes for cognitive decline are medications -- especially sedatives, which can dull the mind; alcohol, which interferes with sleep; depression, which affects concentration; and hearing or vision impairment.

"Simple things like having your hearing and vision checked are another way of just making sure we're not shutting out aspects of the world around us that can help to keep us vital and active," she says.

White adds that regular exercise for both the body and the brain helps to optimize cognitive function.

"I think common sense would tell us that it's important to pursue physical exercise and that it's also important to stay active cognitively," White says.

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