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10 Facts About Memory

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Memory Failure in Old-Age Might Not Be Inevitable
Age and Memory

While old age is often associated with memory declines, some elderly adults are able to maintain their memory throughout old age.

Photo by Sharon Dominick / iStockPhoto

While Alzheimer's disease and other age-related memory problems affect many older adults, the loss of memory during old-age might not inevitable. Certain abilities do tend to decline with age, but researchers have found that individuals in their 70s often perform just as well on many cognitive tests as do those in their 20s. Some types of memory even increase with age.

While researchers are still working to understand why exactly some elderly adults manage to maintain an excellent memory while other struggle, a few factors have been implicated so far. First, many experts believe that there is a genetic component to memory retention during old age. Secondly, lifestyle choices are also believed to play an important role.

"I think it's a nature-nurture interaction, in large part," Dr. Bruce S. McEwen, a professor at Rockefeller University in New York, explained to The New York Times. "'A genetic vulnerability increases the likelihood that experience will have an effect."

So what are some steps you can take to stave of the negative effects of aging?

According to one decade-long study, having a strong sense of self-efficacy has been associated with maintaining good memory abilities during old age. Self-efficacy refers to the sense of control that people have over their own lives and destiny. This strong sense of self-efficacy has also been linked to lowered stress levels. As mentioned previously, high levels of chronic stress have been connected to deterioration in the memory centers of the brain.

While there is no simple "quick fix" for ensuring that your memory stays intact as you age, researchers believe that avoiding stress, leading an active lifestyle, and remaining mentally engaged are important ways to decrease your risk of memory loss.

References

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Carroll, L. (2000). Is memory loss inevitable? Maybe not. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/01/health/is-memory-loss-inevitable-maybe-not.html?src=pm

Di Gennaro, G., Grammaldo, L.G., Quarato, P.P., Esposito, V., Mascia, A., Sparano A, Meldolesi, G.N., Picardi, A. (2006). Severe amnesia following bilateral medial temporal lobe damage occurring on two distinct occasions. Neurological Sciences, 27(2), 129–33.

Herz R.S. & Engen T.1996. Odor memory: review and analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 3, 300-313.

Jacob, T. Olfaction: A tutorial on the sense of smell. http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/staffinfo/jacob/

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Miller, G. A. (1956), The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information, Psychological Review 63 (2): 343–355

Mohs, Richard C. (2007). How human memory works. HowStuffWorks.com. http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/nervous-system/human-memory.htm

Monnell Center. Advancing discovery in taste and smell. http://www.monell.org/

Most people with amnesia forget all details of their earlier lives. (2010). Excerpted from 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/myths/myth_14.cfm

Want to improve memory? Strengthen your synapses. Here's how. Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/60455.php

Winerman, L. (2006). Let's sleep on it: A good night's sleep may be the key to effective learning, says recent research. Monitor on Psychology. http://www.apa.org/monitor/jan06/onit.aspx

Memory - Retreival, Forgetting and Other Memory Topics
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