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Had a Perry moment? What causes memory lapses

During Wednesday's debate, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry is unable to remember one of the three government agencies he would eliminate if he were elected to the White House.


No matter your political views, you probably couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Gov. Rick Perry’s memory hiccup during Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican presidential debate. Sorry and perhaps a little empathetic.

For the life of him, Perry couldn’t remember the name of the third federal agency he’d abolish as president. Commerce, Education, and, and, and. Nothing. Someone suggested “EPA,” and Perry briefly appeared to consider that possibility. By the time reporter John Hardwood asked him what that third agency was, Perry seemed to have forgotten even Commerce.

We might call such incidents “senior moments,” but they happen to people of all ages, says Gayatri Devi, director of the New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services. It’s just that few people experience them on live TV.

“I don’t think we can make too much of it,” says Devi, a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist. “This is a very human error. I don’t think it’s portentous of any memory problems.”

Perry, who’s 61, probably had several factors working against him, Devi speculates.

Story: Perry's debate brain freeze looms large

For one, she says, the guy is running for president and has tons of stuff to remember. Just because he blanked on the name of that third agency (Department of Energy, by the way) doesn’t mean he’s unfamiliar with the details of his own platform, Devi says. “Haven’t you ever forgotten your home telephone number?” (My hand is up.)

Plus, the stress of everything going on in his life right now probably doesn’t help. While a little stress can keep you on your game, Devi says, too much can hinder your performance.

Perry’s lapse does probably mean that he didn’t rehearse enough, she says. As anyone who’s ever given a talk knows, practice, practice, practice helps get you closer to perfect.

On top of that, you have to figure that Perry, a governor running for the presidential nomination, probably isn’t getting enough zzz’s. As Devi says, “the most important thing for remembering is a good night’s sleep.”

 Catnaps probably aren’t enough, she says, because it’s “slow-wave”-- or deep sleep—that’s needed to help make memories stick. “What your grandmother said is true: Get a good night’s sleep. Especially before a presidential debate.”

Readers, let's sympathize with the guy for a second. When's the last time you had a brain freeze? Leave a comment telling us about it -- if we like your story, we may use it in an upcoming Body Odd post!