Problems with Memory Essay Example

As we grow older, our visual memory, verbal memory, and episodic memory tend to weaken. Meanwhile, our recognition memory (know), prospective memory (in realistic situations), and semantic memory tend to stay intact. The intense decline of our visual and verbal memory is detected with the spatial span and digit span tasks. Researchers propose that this deterioration is caused by the disruption from previous sequences indicating a problem with restricting unnecessary concepts. To illustrate the failure of the ability to restrict this information, Bäckman and Molander conducted a study where they paired miniature golf players according to their skill set. While competing, the performance of the elders dropped compared to the young contestants. When requested to recount specific shots, the group of elders provided more information that was irrelevant than the young, who could exclude diversions and focus on the strokes.

Weaken of Episodic Memory

Another memory that diminishes with age is the episodic memory, and the decrease is observed through its performance on exercises. Several studies use synthetic knowledge such as the acquisition of pairs of unrelated words; however, the result is not restricted to this material alone. The Doors and People test uses realistic knowledge like the names of people and exhibits a decrease in recollection and recognition of verbal and visual information. Likewise, another decrease was observed in the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test. The test was created to mimic everyday memory scenarios and Salthouse analyzed more than forty acts which all diminished with age.

An intriguing aspect of the impact of age on recognition memory is that seniors happen to be better at recognizing items than remembering its context. Recognition depends on two measures. First is know, which is based on a well known and recognizable sense. The second is remember, where a member recalls the learning incident and its context. Parkin and Walter conducted a study where they introduced a series of 36 words to young, middle-aged, and elderly participants. The 36 old words were reintroduced along with 36 new words for recognition. Participants then had to place identified items under the “know” or “remember” category. Young and older adults were found similar in terms of their memory abilities in the number of words correctly identified as “known”. However, correctly “remembered” responses were the greatest only for the young participants. Hay and Jacoby used the process dissociation method and found that the elder participants were impaired on the remembering but not on the knowing component.

Prospective Memory Problems

Moving to the next memory, known as prospective memory, which refers to remembering information about events happening in the future. The preferred way to examine prospective memory is in a lab, in which members participate in an exercise and are told to respond either after a specified time or when a specific cue occurs. The original study had less evidence of age effects compared to the later investigation, which discovered a decrease for time-based exercises but not for event-based exercises. A study was conducted, containing one hundred members with an age range of thirty-five to eighty years. The objective of this study was to sign the form when the task was completed. Although sixty-one percent of the thirty five-year-olds recalled signing, only twenty-five percent of the eighty-year-olds were successful. Researchers found that both event-based and time-based prospective memory worsened with age. In the textbook, it is mentioned that in order to perform a prospective memory task, it is necessary to encode two things: The first is the action to be performed; the second is the time or event when that action must be retrieved. So far, we have discussed experimental results in which prospective memory virtually always appears to be poorer in the elderly (p. 419).

However, in realistic scenarios, this is not always the case. Researchers used adults in their twenties, sixties, and eighties and included exercises such as training the members to make a phone call at a specific time in the future. In scenarios like this, older subjects outperformed the young, whereas when the task was conducted in the lab the opposite happened. This difference between day-to-day life and lab outcomes is often associated with elders being attentive of their memory limitations and using several techniques, such as reminders or diaries to make up for the loss. Meanwhile, the young members tend to rely more on their still-fallible memory.

Semantic Memory Definition

Another memory that is intact is the semantic memory, which is determined by vocabulary strategies and proceeds to develop gradually as we age. Therefore, the elderly have substantial knowledge of vocabulary than the young. Learning of general knowledge also develops better with age but the speed of acquiring the knowledge becomes slower. Vocabulary results have been viewed as immune to the effects of cognitive decline, whereas speed is extremely sensitive. Vocabulary strategies and speed are characteristics that are measured in the Speed and Capacity of Language Processing test. This measures vocabulary by using the spot-the-word test. The second aspect of the Speed and Capacity of Language Processing test entailed subjects validating general statements as quickly as possible. Mistakes are low, which indicates that the issue is not lack of knowledge but the speed of acquiring that knowledge. This is extremely sensitive to factors such as age. Even though vocabulary is intact, the use of language can be strained in other ways like diaries. Diaries tend to show an increase in uncertainty over the years through the use of vague pronouns. As the diarists grew older, they made an attempt to avoid this source of ambiguity by decreasing the number of pronouns used as well as avoiding left-branching sentences. This places a severe load on working memory (WM) than their right-branching equivalent.

Implicit Memory Phenomenon

Other memories like implicit memory and accidental learning involve several processes which could lead to why the effects of aging are not consistent. Researchers found that priming tasks such as stem completion have moderate age effect. Whereas, identification tasks such as identifying a broken image as quickly as possible, have smaller age effects. Other complex relations with aging include motor skills. Since motor performance decreases as we age, it reflects a weakening in the speed of movement and perception. This can lead to a slow learning of time-based tasks such as pursuit tracking. Skilled performance certainly can be impaired; however, it is unclear whether given the right circumstances the learning rate is necessarily slower. On a task that involves responding consecutively to four separate stimuli under self-paced conditions, both young and elderly participants exhibited a similar rate of learning. Meanwhile, learning a new stimulus-response mapping might not show an age difference. Willingham and Winter discovered that the elderly, who had never utilized a PC mouse, was as skilled at figuring out how to explore a maze on a PC as were the young.

Why Does Our Memory Become Worse?

As we age, our brain grows smaller. This appears in the development of the ventricles, the routes in the brain are filled with cerebrospinal fluid which consumes up more space. This is a good general measure of the size of the brain. However, brain function is not well measured as functional change depending on what part of the brain is getting smaller. This tends to be the frontal lobes, with the temporal and occipital lobes shrinking more slowly. The hippocampus, essential for memory, loses twenty to thirty percent of its neurons by the age of eighty. Studies of brain function through the use of neuroimaging are likely to reveal age effects. Researchers studying visual attention and WM found that elderly participants had stimulation in both cerebral hemispheres on tasks that activate only one cerebral hemisphere in young subjects. A similar conclusion was observed by Maguire and Frith in a study of autobiographical memory. The elderly were showing activation on both sides, while the young was showing mainly left hippocampal activation. A study conducted by Lidaka et al. needed subjects to recall pairs of unrelated or related images. Both older adults and the young participants showed more left frontal involvement for the unrelated images; however, the young members appeared to have extra occipito-temporal involvement. This could be associated with visual imagery being active, and Maguire et al. noticed this area tends to be activated when the method of loci was used. Method of loci is time-consuming and although it helps the young, only half of its older adults proven by researchers appeared to profit from this method. It seems as though older subjects will try to make up for brain deficits by using supplementary approaches reflected in a wider range of brain activation.


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