There’s no doubt about it: as individuals grow older, memories change. The relationship between age and memory is a fascinating area of study. Many individuals have been primed to fear the aging process, especially because of the toll it can take on memories. In many ways, though, this fear is unwarranted.
The reality is, memories change from the moment individuals are born until they die. This is because they are directly connected to the condition of the brains, and the brain is the most elastic and constantly-evolving organ in the body.
So what happens as humans age? Memories age too. First of all, when humans are first born, they have very little functional memory at all. As individuals become older, they begin to develop short-term memories and then long-term ones.
Individuals can vary widely in terms of how much they are capable of remembering from their younger years. Additionally, outside factors like diet, alcohol or drug abuse, and traumatic experiences may also play a role in the retention of memories.
Age-Associated Memory Impairment
Anyone who is getting older has probably considered at one time or another whether they are losing their memory skills. The decline in memory can begin in your 20s but may not be noticeable for decades.1
Typically, it is when an individual reaches their 50s that they begin to notice a decline in their memory. This can trigger worry, but this worry is actually somewhat unwarranted. While some specific functions of the memory can decline with age, most memory can function quite well throughout the 70s.
Age and Memory Declines
To understand the relationship between age and memory decline, it’s good to have a working knowledge of the different types of memory. The aspect of memory that declines the most is episodic memory. This is a catch-all term for the memories individuals keep of all the events they’ve experienced throughout life.
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As people age, most will experience a decline in their ability to remember events from our past. Therefore, this means that the episodic memory is what suffers most from the aging process. However, this does not necessarily indicate an overall decline in your memory.
Procedural memory is the ability to remember how to perform tasks. It’s also known as muscle memory. This kind of memory tends to show a very little decline with age. The short-term memory also rarely experiences a significant decline.
Age and Memory-Related Diseases
Another issue as you age is that overall brain function generally decreases. This does not necessarily mean you have a memory disorder, but there are so many areas of your brain used when you remember information that when your brain function declines, your memory typically does as well.2
There are certain deposits that can take root in the brain over time and contribute to blocking the pathways necessary for memory recall. When overall brain function declines, individuals become susceptible to diseases like Alzheimer’s.
These diseases can cause dramatic declines in brain function and memory. Patients can lose almost all access to their episodic memory, as well as their procedural and short-term memories. Semantic memory, or the ability to recall language and vocabulary, is also damaged.
When considering the relationship between age and memory, there are both bright spots and some areas of concern. Aging is a slow process that can have a wide range of effects on individuals, and memories can definitely suffer somewhat in the process. However, if individuals stay healthy in other ways, it’s possible to maintain many important memory skills.3
Many scientists are researching innovative ways to improve memory even as people age. With so many scientific advances in this area, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about the future.
For anyone concerned about age-related memory decline, it’s important to remember that there are activities you can do to improve your memory. Many studies have shown that excellent ways to boost memory include games, puzzles, aromatherapy, and even engaging with nostalgia.
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