When "Senior Moments" Begin

One of the first signs of aging that many baby boomers experience is memory loss, forgetting things such as people's names, where they left the keys, or why they walked into a room.

Such incidents are frequently joked about as "senior moments," but people who notice that they aren't as sharp as they once were, are often concerned that the problem may be the beginning of something serious. Should they be concerned, and is there anything they can do to keep their minds in good shape?

Dr. Eric Braverman, a physician in New York City and author of the book, "Younger You," addressed those questions on The Early Show Monday.

"It's actually very common," when we hit middle-age, to suddenly start forgetting things we never had a problem remembering in the past, Braverman told co-anchor Julie Chen. "By 50 years old, about 80 percent of Americans have some memory or attention problem, and women more than men.

"The good news is that we can actually measure this with memory scales and brain maps. We can see the loss of brain speed. And we can reverse it. We have good news, the brain can be the most important organ and we can focus in on it, because we're only as young as our oldest part."

Why 50, and why women more than men?

"Menopause is a loss of important hormones," Braverman explained. "Estrogen feeds attention, testosterone gives focus, progesterone helps women sleep better, so menopause comes a little earlier for women than men and blood flow decreases to the brain.

"So, it's extremely common to fail to remember cell phone numbers as well as we used to, forgetting faces, forgetting stories. It really happens to a lot of people. But the good news is, in these early stages, it's reversible, because we diagnose it 20 and 30 years before you get dementia."

Causes of middle-age memory loss, Braverman said, include hormones, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis.

Simply put, Braverman observed, your body has to stay healthy and vigorous for your brain to stay sharp.

"In the case of osteoporosis," he continued, "when you're losing calcium, your brain cannot have the same neuronal function. Every cell in the brain needs calcium and needs the metabolism from your muscles to pump blood into your brain and to stay sharp. A physically fit body is extremely fit brain. Of course, nursing homes are filled with individuals who are frail and that's because they've lost hormones for 30 years, in the case of menopause for women, they lose estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and even more hormones."

Stress, lack of exercise, and loneliness can all contribute to middle-age memory loss, Braverman said.

"If you can, you want to get 30 minutes every day of aerobic exercise or catch up with an hour every other day" to help head off such memory loss, he suggested. "You have to pump the blood into your brain. You have to give the brain a chance to relax. Whatever natural hormones you're taking or nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, you need more nutrition. We have something called the rainbow diet where you have spices and herbal teas. They all feed the brain. Your brain can actually get younger and sharper at 50. You can actually reach a new peak."

As for stress, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) may help, or a B vitamin called choline, which is found in eggs and caviar. Other herbal treatments, such as sage and green tea have been found to help.

And combat loneliness: Social interaction is important. Studies have shown that lack of social interaction can affect mortality.

For more on middle-age memory loss, click here and here.