Key Words: memory performance, gender difference, aging males, self-efficacy
Data from the Health and Retirement study published in Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well Being suggest that in every age cohort older than 65 years, a higher percentage of males than females have moderate or severe memory impairment, defined as four or fewer words recalled out of 20 (Federal Interagency Forum of Aging-Related Statistics, 2000). In both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of memory performance, males performed worse than females and had larger performance decrements (Barrett-Connor & Kritz-Silverstein, 1999; Zelinski, Gilewski, & Schaie, 1993). In one study healthy older males had lower scores on self-reported memory function than females (McDougall, 1998a). In another study of nursing home residents, McDougall (1998b) found scores on the capacity and change metamemory scales were significantly lower in the group with mixed depression and cognitive impairment when compared to a group with cognitive impairment and no depression. This phenomenon of compromised thinking, anxiety, and decreased confidence in memory has been described as mental frailty by McDougall and Balyer (1998) and sense of control by Lachman, Steinberg, and Trotter (1987) and Lachman and Leff (1989). Palmer, Wolkenstein, LaRue, Swan, and Smalley (1994) found that in 6% of a sample of community males (N = 1149), memory performance scores were low enough to be classified as risk for dementia. Larrabee and Crook (1993), who examined 417 male-female pairs, found that males had greater age-associated atrophy of the left hemisphere than women; however, this difference was not manifested in everyday verbal memory. Magnetic resonance imaging studies have also found greater atrophy and shrinkage in the brain structures of men than in the brains of women (Coffey et al., 1998; Larkin, 1998; Palmer et al., 1994).
RISK FACTORS THOUGHT TO CONTRIBUTE TO A DECREASE IN MEMORY PERFORMANCE
Memory complaints are the subjective aspect of cognitive function and may be related to memory performance in older adults, but findings about this relationship are inconclusive (Comijs, Deeg, Dik, Twisk, & Jonker, 2002; Commissaris, Ponds, & Jolles, 1998; Hertzog, Dixon, & Hultsch, 1990a; Zelinski, Gilewski, & Anthony-Bergstone, 1990). Subjective memory complaints provide useful health information regarding cognitive aging phenomena and also may predict future cognitive decline (Blazer, Hays, Fillenbaum, & Gold, 1997; Christensen, 1991; Rowe & Kahn, 1987; Jonker, Launer, Hooijer, & Lindeboom, 1996; Verhaeghen, Geraerts, & Marcoen, 2000). Complaints are often evaluated with metamemory questionnaires; however, many studies ask only one or two questions about memory problems, such as "Do you have problems with your memory?" (Cutler & Grams, 1988; Schofield, Marder, Dooneief, Jacobs, Sano, & Stern, 1997). The individuals who have participated in memory studies tended to be individuals having memory complaints and problems, perhaps obscuring the relationship between metamemory and memory performance (Gilewski, Zelinski, & Schaie, 1990; Perlmutter, 2001; Ponds & Jolles, 1996; Ponds, Commissaris, & Jolles, 1997). Nevertheless, metamemory may influence memory performance, and therefore it has particular relevance for cognitive aging research.
Memory self-efficacy was first defined by Hertzog, Hultsch, and Dixon (1989. p. 687) as beliefs about one's capability to use memory effectively in various situations. However, Bandura (1989) determined measurement issues and noted that knowledge about memory functioning (or metamemory) is distinct from beliefs about memory efficacy. The level of distress experienced with memory problems and the actions taken in response to these problems vary depending on a number of factors. These factors include beliefs about aging, perception of symptom severity, attribution of the symptom to aging, and neurotic personality traits (Bandura, 1988, 1997; Hill & Vandervoort, 1992; Rebok & Balcerak, 1989). …