Some Good News About Aging and Memory

There are changes in the way that the brain processes information that compensate for losses that occur. There are also differences between the young and the old in the processing strategies employed during reading. In one experiment[1] younger readers (average age = 20 years) were more likely to recall information from factoids. Older adults (average age = 66 years) were more likely to recall information from highly elaborated text. One way of interpreting these results is to think that older adults have more highly developed memory systems that benefit more from highly elaborated text. The younger adults are still building their memories with simple factoids.

Now for some good news about aging and memory. Skills we have learned and practiced might very well be at their finest. In any case, they are vastly superior to what we had when we were young. Our vocabularies should be greater and our word use and writing skills should be superior. Although processing might be slower, STM and LTM should function well into old age. Our ability to analyze situations and solve problems should remain strong. A study of Air Traffic Controllers attests to this fact.[2]  This study compared ATC performance of older (mean age =57) and younger (mean age = 34).  It demonstrated that the older controllers were quite capable of performing at high levels of proficiency even on fast-paced demanding real-world tasks.

We should gain wisdom as we age. We should grow wiser through our increasing years of experience. From childhood on, we have been learning. This gives us a vast resource to call upon and to apply. This provides an advantage in making judgments and decisions.

Perhaps the prominent memory researcher, James McGaugh, has expressed it best. “We can make the brain work better by simply accumulating more knowledge, which builds more networks of connections in the brain. The wisdom we acquire can compensate for the decline that may be gradually occurring.” So keep learning.           

[1] Shake, M.C., Noh, S.R., and Stine-Morrow,  E.A.L. (2009).  Age differences in learning from text: evidence for functionally distinct text processing systems.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 561-578.

[2] Nunes, A. & Kramer, A.F.  (2009).  Experience-Based Mitigation of Age-Related Performance Declines:  Evidence from Air Traffic Control.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied., 15, 12-24.



© 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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