Explaining memory performance in old age

Wednesday 8 August 2001

Quality of life for the elderly could be improved with the launch of a new study into memory performance in old age.

The study, the only one of its kind being carried out in Scotland, will be conducted by Dr Malcolm MacLeod from the School of Psychology who has been awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Support Research Fellowship.

It is hoped that, by trying to understand the mechanisms underlying memory performance in old age, it may be possible to develop effective cognitive training strategies to enhance memory performance and therefore improve the quality of life for those who experience difficulties in remembering.

Dr MacLeod said, “Poor memory performance is often characterised in terms of decay of the memory trace and indeed many older adults often refer to the impression that their memories are deteriorating as they grow older. Another possible explanation, however, which I have been looking at in younger adults, is that memory failure is sometimes due to an inability to access the desired material rather than any degredation of the memory trace. In other words, the information is still stored in memory and the problem is one of accessing it.”

One of the reasons for the difficulty in accessing the information we wish to remember is because of competition from unwanted but related material stored in memory. For example, failing to remember someone’s current telephone number may be because of the interference from previous telephone numbers associated with that person. One way in which memory is thought to deal with this problem is through the active suppression or inhibition of this related material and thereby promoting the recall of the desired information. Therefore, the possibility in explaining memory performance in old age is that it may be due to an inability to suppress or inhibit related information effectively. This, in turn, would make it more difficult to remember the things we want to remember because there would be more pieces of information competing for recall.


Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email [email protected] Ref: memory- macleod/standrews/chg/9august2001

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