The shape of memory changes for many people in later life. If our typical old person has one real complaint about his own mental functioning, it is likely to concern his memory for recent events. A word, a name or a fact, just doesn’t come to mind when he wants it. What happened in the distant past is likely to be clear and precise in his mind. He can accurately recall events that occurred 60 or 70 years ago, but may draw a blank for what happened a week ago last Monday.

The picture is even more complex than this. The research shows that another type of memory also must be distinguished (i.e. recall for immediate events). The old person in good health does not appear to suffer any particular problems in this regard. He can remember what has just happened, can remember very well what happened decades ago, but has difficulty with the time in between long ago and a moment ago.

Why these differences in memory? Current research suggests several processes must function well if we are to have a sound memory. The experience has to register upon us in the first place. This is obviously a necessary step both for learning and remembering. Next, the experience must be entered into a sort of storage system where it is coded and becomes part of our personal data bank. But we must also have an effective retrieval system, a way of searching through all that we have on file and coming up with the particular information we need at the moment.

Our childhood memories have had plenty of time to settle into our data banks. However, some of the more recent experiences may fail to take. They fade away before the memory trace can be entered into permanent storage. If we are distracted for psychological reasons or undergo a weakening in the physiological processes that support memory function, then incoming information may not make a clear enough impression to become part of the long term storage system.

Unfortunately, some of the “solutions” we come up with can create additional problems in everyday life. A person might withdraw from social interaction on a favorite activity because he is afraid that his memory problems will show. Another person may develop habits that make life more complicated (i.e. changing the subject or picking an argument when he fears that his memory will be tested). Others borrow, bend or simply invent facts to replace those that do not come easily to mind. More satisfactory adjustments are ultimately made by those who acknowledge their memory problems and neither surrender to them nor try to cover it up.

One possible approach that can be helpful for the older person with memory issues is to discuss it with others who may have similar concerns. Also, there are professionals with experience in the field of geriatrics who understand this problem and can be of great help.

Quotable Quote: “Wrinkles are new indications where smiles have been.” Mark Twain
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Comments on "“I REMEMBER…” AND AGING"

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Angel Esponda - Thursday, December 06, 2018

Cognitive impairment is associated with the normal aging process. However, in my opinion, these effects could be delayed by proper nutrition, physical exercise and engaging in continuous learning. I know plenty of elderly individuals who have no memory problems at all, they are able to keep track of their finances and live mostly independently. On the other hand, I know people that show signs of cognitive impairment who are fairly young; however in some of these cases, the person is taking medications for depression or anxiety. I wonder if there is correlation between mental illness and cognitive impairment. This is certainly a great research topic to pursue.

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