Many seem to assume that memory loss is very common with aging individuals, however, memory loss and dementia are different than typical forgetfulness. Not all aging adults experience significant memory loss or dementia, which refutes the stereotype that all older people have “bad memory”. Forgetfulness is the act of (occasionally) forgetting small details of situations, such as bits of a conversation, or misplacing car keys. As humans age, the brain continues to change, and ages with the human body. According to Charles, Carstensen, and Mather (2006), the brain continues to transform and age with new knowledge and life experiences, however, it does experience a decrease in size and decrease in cognitive abilities (p.310). Studies have shown that the lack of understanding and stigma around cognitive decline with the increase of age has developed a stereotype surrounding memory loss.
A study, completed in 2006 discussed the socioemotional selectivity theory, and how it relates to memory in older adults. The participants of this study reflected three different age groups from California; young adults aged 18-29, middle-aged adults aged 41-53, and older adults aged 65-80. The three different age groups were studied so that the researchers were able to find a difference in recall and recognition accuracy (Charles et. al, 2006). In this study, the three different groups completed a series of questions on a computer and then asked to respond to questions to test the cognitive functioning of the individuals. In this case, the independent variable was the ages of the participants, and the dependent variable was the number of images recalled from the series of questions asked on the computer. The results of this study presented a negative correlation between age and recall memory. This study is applicable to the stereotype that all aging adults experience memory loss because it supports that idea, but in a more complex way. Charles, Carstensen, and Mather (2006) discuss that older adults were able to recall more positive images than negative images when compared to the scores of younger adults. This is related to the stereotype because it provides evidence that the older adults may have scored lower in the recall and recognition tests, but there were other factors that contributed to the lower scoring (Charles et. al, 2006). Both younger and older adults scored similarly when they were asked to recall positive images that were shown during the quiz. Aging effects cognitive functioning, and it is believed that emotion has significantly motivates memory, which is suggested by the socioemotional selectivity theory (Charles et. al, 2006). It is discussed by the authors, Charles et al. (2006) that the increase in age has a negative correlation with decrease of cognitive functioning, and one of the factors that contributes to it is that memory plays a role in the process of retrieval. Although this study supports that memory declines with age, it also supports the fact that it is not the case with all older adults, and that there are a lot of factors that play into memory decline.
A study conducted in Nigeria by Adebiya et al. discusses the stigma of dementia and memory loss. Many individuals fail to understand the difference between dementia and forgetfulness. Dementia is a serious form of memory loss that effects one’s ability to learn and reason. According to Adebiya et al, the stigma and lack of awareness of what dementia truly is, and its effects on a person can begin to effect the care of someone with dementia (2015). According to the methods and procedures presented in the text, quantitative data was collected through the use of questionnaires and discussions administered by a professional. Simple questions were asked on the questionnaire, such as if they knew what kind of disease dementia was (Adebiya et al, 2015). The mixed collection of qualitative and quantitative data provided the researchers with results that allowed them to draw the conclusion that there is a positive correlation between awareness of dementia and how those who have dementia are perceived in society. The lack of knowledge about this disease refutes the stereotype that all aging adults experience memory loss, because it suggests that the lack of knowledge about the subject supports the idea that not all older adults have dementia or significant memory loss. It is easy for an individual to assume things when they are not fully aware of the situation, which is why many assume things about older adults, such as having memory loss.
It is important to recognize the overall cognitive effects of aging when discussing stereotypes. Growing older includes cognitive decline, which has been proven through many sources. Lin et al, created a study that completed research in the field of hearing and cognitive decline in aging adults with the average age of 77 years old (Lin et al, 2013). Several hearing tests were administered over a span of 11 years, and they also studied executive functioning through various tests. The independent variable of the audiometric assessment was the level of sounds that tested the thresholds of each ear, and the dependent variable was the decline in threshold over the 11 years of testing (Lin et al, 2013). The cognitive assessment was very similar, such as the several tests that were administered each year, and the decline of the results from the baseline data (Lin et al, 2013). This study supports the stereotype that as individuals age, memory decreases, however, it is not always as significant as some may think. In a span of eight years, Lin et al (2013) explains that the scores from the original data only declined about five points, which is not a significant number for cognitive assessments. Over time, the executive functioning of the human brain begins to decrease due to the idea “use it or lose it”, which is also known as neurons beginning to die due to age and the lack of using some of them (Lin et al, 2013). Although many older adults experience memory loss, it is all in different forms, and many of them experience differently. Some older adults never experience memory loss diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which denies the stereotype that all older adults face the challenge of memory loss.
In the fourth study, the loss of memory with increasing age was studied. Beaudoin and Desrichard (2011) came to the conclusion through a series of tests that memory performance increases when study time is increased. This study has shown a positive correlation through the number of hours studied, which is also the independent variable, and the scores of the mini-Mental Status Examination (MSE) that was given to the older-aged participants of the study (Beaudoin & Desrichard, 2011). The purpose of the study was to test memory performance in older adults, but to also see how memory performance ties into task persistence and motivation. The 64 to 85 year old participants (dependent variable) did a lot better on the examinations when they had motivation to succeed. This study declines the stereotype of memory placed onto older adults. According to Beaudoin and Desrichard (2011), older adults are able to use recall and recognition memory if they take the steps of self-efficacy, such as “studying” and practicing information so they do not lose the important details. The processing and reaction times of older adults may increase with age, but it is important to remember that older adults are capable of not having memory loss, and live lives that tear down this stereotype of them.
Adebiyi, A. O., Fagbola, M. A., Olakehinde, O., & Ogunniyi, A. (2016). Enacted and implied stigma for dementia in a community in south-west Nigeria. Psychogeriatrics , 16(4), 268-273. doi:10.1111/psyg.12156
B. M., & D. O. (2011). Are memory self-efficacy and memory performance related? A meta-analysis. PubMed, 132(2), 211-241. doi:doi: 10.1037/a0022106.
Charles, S. T., Carstensen, L. L., & Mather, M. (2006). Aging and Emotional Memory: The Forgettable Nature of Negative Images for Older Adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 310-324. doi: DOI: 10.1037/0096-34184.108.40.2060
Lin, F. R., MD, K. Y., MD, & J. X., MS. (2013). Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. JAMA Intern Med, 173(4), 293-299. doi:doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868