Healthy Aging

“Tip-of-the-Tongue” Moments: Something to Worry About?

”You know, what’s his name?”  “What is his name?”

”Remember, that movie we saw last month…what was it called again?”


If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone in these tip-of-the-tongue moments. They’re not only frustrating, they can send you into a spiral of anxiety as you figure that yes, indeed, you are losing your memory and your mind.


Researchers who recently studied this say they have found no link between these frustrating events and episodic memory – the type that’s tested to detect serious memory problems.

Tip-of-the-tongue events do increase with age, says researcher Arielle Mandell, a graduate student at George Mason University. But the events appear to be separate from declines in episodic memory, which is your recall of actual life experiences.

In the new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, Mandell and Dr. Timothy Salthouse of the University of Virginia tested the episodic memory of more than 700 men and women ages 18 to 99. They also evaluated tip-of-the-tongue memory by showing the same men and women pictures or brief descriptions of famous people, places and common objects and asking what they are called.

Example: What’s the name of the building where you can view images of celestial bodies on the inner surface of a dome? (Don’t stress: keep reading to find the answer.)

To make sure those lapses of memory really were tip-of-the-tongue moments, the researchers offered a multiple-choice list of possible answers; people who knew the answer, but just couldn’t come up with it, recalled it when they saw it.

The researchers saw a large increase in tip-of-the-tongue events with age. But they saw no correlation between the study participants’ tip-of-the-tongue lapses and their performance in the episodic memory tests.

So, which people, places and things were most likely to induce a tip-of-the-tongue “senior” moment?  (Scroll down for the answers.)

  • This former US Senator


  • This comedian-actor


  • What’s the name of the building where you can view images of celestial bodies on the inner surface of a dome?
  • What is the name of the large waterfall in Zambia that is one of the Seven Wonders of the World?

nameMandell hasn’t studied how to reduce those tip-of-the-tongue moments, but we’ll go out on a …um um, small tree branch, and suggest carrying a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone or tablet so you can Google the answer. And wear this button.

(Answers: Joe Lieberman, Ben Stiller, “planetarium,” “Victoria Falls”)

Click here to read more study details.


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