Memory and Aging

Cognitive aging can be thought of as a process in which two competing forces determine the course of our individual cognitive abilities as we age. One force is the decline of the effectiveness of our nervous systems as we age; the other force is the vast accumulation of knowledge that has been stored over our lifetimes. Younger cognitive processes might be faster, but the amount of knowledge should be much larger in older cognitive systems. The amount of knowledge does vary considerably among older individuals and those with larger amounts of knowledge can be thought to have an advantage in countering the effects of aging.

 It is also important to realize that it is not only biological changes that can affect memory as we age. Cultural stereotypes also play a role. Unfortunately there is a stereotype in the United States that memory declines with age. The Chinese revere the elderly for their knowledge and to not have this negative stereotype.It is also the case that the deaf in America do not believe that the memory of deaf people declines with age. There is an interesting study[1] that documented these phenomena. This study involved six groups. There were three young groups (15-30 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese, and three older groups (59-91 years) of American Hearing, American Deaf, and Chinese. Although the three young groups performed similarly on memory tasks, the older American Deaf and older Chinese outperformed the older Hearing Americans on the memory tasks. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between the view toward aging and the view towards memory performance among the older groups. That is, those who believed that they would do well, did well; those who believed that they would do poorly, did poorly. So it is quite possible that negative stereotypes and the expectancy of memory declines can work to magnify any losses due to neurological changes.

Research continues to mount that the cognitive capacity of older adults can be preserved and enhanced through relevant kinds of intellectual, social, and physical activities.[2] Cognitive training studies have demonstrated that when older adults are provided with intensive training strategies that promote thinking and remembering, cognitive functions can improve.

The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging[3]. She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span. Subsequent discussions in this blog will further underscore the importance of attention in memory. Stine-Morrow argues that cognitive effort can directly impact cognitive change in the form of attentional engagement and indirectly as it alters neuronal changes that give rise to component capabilities.

Perhaps the most exciting finding to emerge from recent research is that the brain maintains its plasticity well into old age.[4] One needs to take advantage of this plasticity and to continue to invoke neuronal changes in ones’ brain. This book contains a large variety of memory techniques that result in the formation of new neuronal changes. These techniques require the focusing of attentional processes. They employ both hemispheres of the brain and require the recoding of information and the transfer of information between the two hemispheres. It is hoped that the practice of these techniques will have beneficial effects on brain health and reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s and Senile Dementia.


{[1]Levy, B. &Langer, E. (1994).  Aging Free from Negative Stereotypes:  Successful Memory in China and Among the American Deaf.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 989-997.

[2] Hertzog, D., Kramer, A. E., Wilson, R. S., &Lindengerger, U.  (2009).  Enrichment Effects on Adult Cognitive Development:  Can the Functional Capacity of Older Adults BE Preserved and Enhanced?  Psychogical Science in the Public Interest, 9, 1-65.

[3] Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

[4] Doidge, N. (2007).  The Brain That Changes Itself.  New York, New York.  Penguin Books.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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3 Responses to “Memory and Aging”

  1. geovanny Says:

    good article

  2. adverse Says:

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