Memory decline in normal aging
Normal aging is associated with a decline in various memory abilities in many cognitive tasks; the phenomenon is known as age-related memory impairment (AMI) or age-associated memory impairment (AAMI). The ability to encode new memories of events or facts and working memory shows decline in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Studies comparing the effects of aging on episodic memory, semantic memory, short-term memory and priming find that episodic memory is especially impaired in normal aging; some types of short-term memory are also impaired. The deficits may be related to impairments seen in the ability to refresh recently processed information. Source information is one type of episodic memory that suffers with old age; this kind of knowledge includes where and when the person learned the information. Knowing the source and context of information can be extremely important in daily decision-making, so this is one way in which memory decline can affect the lives of the elderly. Therefore, reliance on political stereotypes is one way to use their knowledge about the sources when making judgments, and the use of metacognitive knowledge gains importance. This deficit may be related to declines in the ability to bind information together in memory during encoding and retrieve those associations at a later time.
In particular, associative learning, which is another type of episodic memory, is vulnerable to the effects of aging, and this has been demonstrated across various study paradigms. This has been explained by the Associative Deficit Hypothesis (ADH), which states that aging it associated with a deficiency in creating and retrieving links between single units of information. This can include knowledge about context, events or items. The ability to bind pieces of information together with their episodic context in a coherent whole has been reduced in the elderly population. Furthermore, the older adults’ performances in free recall involved temporal contiguity to a lesser extent than for younger people, indicating that associations regarding contiguity become weaker with age.
Several reasons have been speculated as to why older adults use less effective encoding and retrieval strategies as they age. The first is the “disuse” view, which states that memory strategies are used less by older adults as they move further away from the educational system. Second is the “diminished attentional capacity” hypothesis, which means that older people engage less in self-initiated encoding due to reduced attentional capacity. The third reason is the “memory self-efficacy,” which indicates that older people do not have confidence in their own memory performances, leading to poor consequences.
A biological explanation for memory deficits in aging includes a postmortem examination of five brains of elderly people with better memory than average. These people are called the “super aged,” and it was found that these individuals had less fiber-like tangles of tau protein than in typical elderly brains. However, a similar amount of amyloid plaque was found.