Growing older is difficult on a personal level for many people. In part, the concern and anxiety people feel result from societal attitudes that favor youth, especially for women. However, such feelings also result from misconceptions about what aging entails on a personal level, which in turn result from a lack of accurate information about the psychological aspects of aging.
One area in which personal concerns are especially prominent is memory. Perhaps no other psychological criterion is used more to check how well we are functioning. Likewise, no other cognitive skill is as pervasive in everything we do, from remembering how to brush our teeth in the morning to remembering to set the alarm when we go to bed at night.
In this article, I will summarize briefly the research literature on memory and aging. In particular, I will focus on the complex processes we use to acquire, store, and remember information, the role of personal beliefs about memory and memory change, and the place of memory in clinical testing. Readers interested in learning more about cognitive processes and aging should consult the book Perspectives on Cognitive Changes in Adulthood and Late Life edited by Blanchard-Fields and Hess (McGraw-Hill ). Of course, memory is but one aspect of the broader arena of psychological changes with age; readers wishing to learn more may wish to consult my book Adult Development and Aging (3rd ed., Brooks/Cole ).
PROCESSING AND REMEMBERING INFORMATION
One of the most commonly held beliefs about aging is that memory inevitably declines. Unfortunately, this view, though somewhat correct, is much too simplistic. The reason is that getting information into our heads in such a way that we can remember it on demand later is the result of a series of complex processes: sensory memory, attention, working memory, short-term memos, and long-term memory. Psychologists who study these processes in the context of aging have discovered that some of them change dramatically with age, …