How does age affect your memory?

Memory changes cause concern to many patients as they grow older.

In general, older people have more difficulty learning new things, retrieving old information, and multitasking. In order to understand what causes this weakening, we must first understand how memory works.

As you grow older, you experience physiological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions you’ve always taken for granted. It takes longer to learn and recall information. You’re not as quick as you used to be. In fact, you may mistake this slowing of your mental processes for true memory loss. But in most cases, if you give yourself time, the information will come to mind. So, while it’s true that certain brain changes are inevitable when it comes to aging, major memory problems are not one of them. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and the symptoms that may indicate a developing cognitive problem.

The good news is that this doesn't mean that memory loss and dementia are inevitable. While some specific abilities do decline with age, overall memory remains strong for most people throughout their 70s. In fact, research shows that the average 70-year-old performs as well on certain cognitive tests as do many 20-year-olds, and many people in their 60s and 70s score significantly better in verbal intelligence than do younger people.

With age comes the increased likelihood of developing memory loss. The mildest form, age-associated memory impairment, is characterized by self-perception of memory loss and a standardized memory test score showing a decline in objective memory performance compared with younger adults.

In addition, continued mental stimulation is vital; reading, drawing, and doing puzzles can stimulate the growth of dendrites that maintain strong connections between neurons. The best advice older people can heed is to treat the brain like any other muscle: “use it or lose it.”


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