Experts: Memory Loss Often a Focus Problem

What's a TOT? Well, try this: Name the 1989 movie that earned Julia Roberts her first Academy Award nomination. You know the one about a beauty shop in New Orleans, also starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Olympia Dukakis? Can't quite remember?

If you know you know it but can't quite summon the name, you've just had a TOT. Deborah Burke, a psychologist at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., has done studies showing that people older than 70 had 50 percent more TOTs than those 35 and under.

Some kinds of memories are more vulnerable than others to fading. Names of movies (if you couldn't remember, the movie was Steel Magnolias), cities and other such general knowledge fall under a category called semantic memory. Episodic memory includes recollections of personal experiences like how we spent last summer and procedural memory is the more automatic how-to memory, such as knowing how to drive.

Studies show that it's usually episodic and semantic memory that are first affected by age and disease.

Preserving Your Brain

Knowing that memory can fade with age and an overloaded life can max out the mind's ability to focus, is there anything to help ensure a good memory? Researchers have come up with some advice:

Limit drinking and smoking — studies have shown both habits can degrade memory over time.

Try associating new information with facts, songs, names or other things that you already know — memory sticks best when it's encoded with existing memories.

Focus and practice. Adding information to your mind in smaller bundles appears to be more effective than loading it up with lots of information all at once.

If you still find yourself forgetting names, numbers and other details, Logan says don't sweat it. It's likely your world, not you, that's the problem.

"I think our memories are as good as our grandparents' were, but we have more information to deal with," he says. "That means you remember the same amount as your grandmother did, but you'll end up forgetting things, whereas she didn't."

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