Does Memory Get Worse With Age?

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When we get older, especially into old age, it seems as if our memory is not quite what it used to be. We forget phone numbers easier and misplace our glasses as well as forget many other things that were easier to remember when we were younger.

The sad fact is that neurons in the brain steadily decline and die as we grow older. So, the answer to the question as to whether memory gets worse with age is ‘yes’. However, we will look at ways in this post to actually improve your memory. So hang fire, as there is good news for older people in store.

Professor Arthur Shimmamura from the University of Berkeley has done studies into the effects of memory loss as we go into old age and has identified three main ways in which our mental capacities to remember things change.

1) Mental Quickness

Due to reduced efficiency in the way the brain’s neurons work as we grow older, our mental speed reduces. For instance, if you sat a teenager down to play a fast-paced driving game against a man in his eighties there are no prizes to guessing who would win. Quite often we find ourselves pottering along behind a slow moving (usually beige coloured car for some reason) car with a older couple driving. This is not because they are retired and find annoying people who are late for work good fun. This is because they are taking extra care driving as their mental speed has slowed with age.

2) Learning Ability

The temporal lobes control our abilities to pick up new skills and are vulnerable to the effects of ageing. If you are young and are learning a new instrument or want to learn a new language you will pick it up a lot quicker than in your later years. Just look at the rate very young children learn to speak.

3) Working Memory

If you picture your short-term memory as a whiteboard with everyday tasks to remember written in marker pen. When we are older this board is cleared pretty quickly due to the marker pen fading fast. When we are younger we are able to retain more in our short-term memory, so the marker pen would be more permanent in our whiteboard example. These short-term memories become more vulnerable and affected by distractions or tasks that we must undertake.

The ‘Working Memory’ system is located in the frontal lobes which are the most vulnerable part of the brain that is affected by old age. Whereas the temporal lobes handle ‘Learning Ability’.

So . . . here is the positive part of this post. The part where it is revealed that it is not all doom and gloom. There is a method to combat the effect of ageing on our memories. And let’s face it, it’s good news for everyone, because all of us will become older – there’s not much we can do to escape that one.

There is evidence to support the ‘Use It Or Lose It’ theory. You may have noticed that people who are older but have never lost interest in learning appear more switched on. This is because stimulating the brain by new learning experiences gives rise to the sprouting out and lengthening of the connecting nerve fibres in the brain. This has been proven in tests where they’ve kept animals in stimulating environments and unstimulating environments.

Have you ever sat down to watch a quiz show and seen someone who is older really shine and even beat younger contestants? This is because they’ve never given up on exploring new learning opportunities.

Professor Shimmamura did studies on several groups of people: intellectually active university professors compared to people of the same age. It was found that the mentally active older professors in their sixties were far superior to there contemporaries and also as good as younger people.

I personally know people who are older but mentally active and also people who have settled for the same routine day in and day out, and I can see a marked difference in how mentally sharp they come across as.

So, in a nutshell, if you are no longer interested in learning to stretch your mental capacities, favouring watching the TV with a cup of tea in a non-challenging job, prepare for an easy life, but bare in mind that you will end up a bit doolalee in your old age.

However, if you fill your life with new experiences and continue to learn about the world, you can not only train yourself to have a good memory, but you stand a chance of having just as good a memory as someone much younger.

I did have one last thing to say to add to the end of this old age and memory blog post . . . but I can’t remember what it was;)


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