‘I’m an Aging Expert, and Here’s What People Don’t Understand About Memory and Aging,’ says the author.
Someone might suggest you’re having “a senior moment” if you can’t recall anything that happened a few days ago or if you misplace your keys for the tenth time.
This could be because they’ve seen a few TV shows depicting people in their 70s and 80s who are suffering from cognitive loss, rather than seeing near-centenarians who are living full and healthy lives. This message—that things will definitely decline as you age—contributes to a memory and aging myth.
While memory can deteriorate over time, it does not have to. And here’s the catch: if you’re convinced that your memory will eventually fade, you may disregard the power you have to prevent it.
Many people believe that aging and memory have an inverse connection, which is somewhat true. However, aging and anti-ageism expert Becca Levy, PhD, a professor of public health and psychology at Yale and the author of the forthcoming book Breaking the Age Code, believes it’s a mistake to assume that all memory deteriorates as people age.
Dr. Levy’s study focuses on psychosocial factors that influence cognitive and physical functioning in older people, as well as their impact on longevity. To eliminate the myth that aging and memory loss are synonymous, she says it’s first necessary to recognize that many types of memory exist—and that some of them improve with age.
Continue reading to learn about the many forms of memory, how they change as we age, and Dr. Levy’s best suggestion for keeping your memory strong.
4 different types of memory and how they evolve as we age
Aging affects different forms of memory in different ways. Some people deteriorate, while others improve, and yet others remain the same throughout their lives.
1. Procedural memory is one of the most important aspects of procedural memory
Procedural memory refers to remembering how to do things like ride a bike, drive a car or prepare your favorite meal. Procedural memory does not change with age, according to Dr. Levy and the American Psychological Association. Dr. Levy explains, “Any procedure that we can repeat over time, we tend to really cling on to.”
2. Memory for events that occur on a regular basis
The term “episodic memory” refers to the ability to recall events that occurred on a specific day. According to Dr. Levy, it tends to decline as we become older. (Though it should be noted that this could be due to the number of fresh experiences we have each day.) Furthermore, the APA claims that episodic memory only “somewhat” deteriorates over time.
3. Memory for semantics
Semantic memory, as the name (nearly) implies, is concerned with broad knowledge. Consider vocabulary, state capitals, and other trivia information you may recite at a bar during a heated round of trivia. “Semantic memory continues to improve for many older persons,” according to the APA. This makes sense because, as parents frequently tell their children, “you know more as you become older.”
Dr. Levy defines metacognition as “thinking about what you’re thinking.” “Some research demonstrate that cognitive complexity improves as people get older,” she says. This study discovered, for example, that older persons may appropriately judge their ability to selectively retain information.
The best way to preserve a strong memory as you become older, according to Dr. Levy
Multiple factors influence how people age, including what we eat, how much we exercise, and our attitudes toward aging, so it’s difficult to make sweeping statements about what happens as we get older, according to Dr. Levy. However, according to Dr. Levy’s research, persons who have good attitudes toward aging had greater memory.
She classified statements like “Old people are forgetful” and “Old people can’t concentrate effectively” as negative age views in one study. Dr. Levy allocated people to different age preconceptions at random to see how their memory changed before and after “activating” the stereotypes.
Her team discovered that when older persons activated positive age attitudes, they performed better in memory tests (like being optimistic about getting older). According to Dr. Levy, “a positive age belief could contribute to higher self-efficacy or a greater sensation of being pushed to carry out something as a psychological process.” (For the sake of #optimism.)
While there are many fallacies regarding aging and memory, understanding how memory works can help you improve yours. If living a long and healthy life is important to you, adopting positive aging attitudes will help you live your best life.
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