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Surprising Science

Researchers Delve into the Complexities of Memory Loss As We Age

Researchers are here to assure you that memory doesn’t go all at once as we age. Some parts strengthen as other parts give way.

As we age, the question of what parts of ourselves, our lives, we will lose looms — what memories will slip from our minds? It’s a frightening reality that Alaitz Aizpurua, a doctor of psychology, says we may have all wrong.

Aizpurua stated in a press release that “the highly widespread belief that memory deteriorates as one approaches old age is not completely true.” Indeed, a recent study found that certain cognitive powers actually peak at varying points in our lives. But when it comes to memory loss, “deterioration appears in episodic memory, but not in semantic memory.” Memories dealing with skills, language, and concepts remain intact. In fact, Aizpurua argues in his paper that “(semantic) and procedural memory are maintained (in some cases they even improve)…”

Autobiographical memory makes up a part of episodic memory, and one could argue that knowing our past helps inform us in the present and allows us to think about the future. Aizpurua and his colleagues wanted to see how this part of episodic memory was affected with age.

Previous studies, Aizpurua said, often “asked about events that had occurred at a specific moment (the same for both groups), but for the older adults, the time interval that had elapsed since the event was much longer. If a young adult is asked about an event in his/her childhood, he/she will have to go back 10 to 15 years; by contrast, an older adult has to go back 40 years or more.” So, his team leveled the playing field a bit, asking participants about something that happened the year before, the month before, and the week before.

Aizpurua said of the results:

“An individual, both an adult and a young person, has the capacity to remember information relating to facts in his/her private life in detail. The main difference between older adults and younger adults is as follows: The younger ones remember more episodic details. Our research shows, however, that this difference only occurred in one of the three sections referred to, in the one involving memories of the previous year; in other words, in that of the oldest recollections. No appreciable differences were found in the recollections of the previous month and the previous week, and the older adults were just as capable as the younger adults in providing episodic details relating to the facts.”

Of course, everyone ages differently and some of us fear we may be destined to become victims to Alzheimer’s disease. However, recent research has shown how poor sleep and the disease may be closely linked. Robert Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, explained in his Big Think interview how important exercising your mind and your brain can be to helping “better memory and better intellectual functioning with age.”

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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