Aging, memory, and context

There are limitations to memory research studies conducted only in the lab, especially if they never include memory tasks and situations that are encountered in everyday life (in fact this is a limitation of lab studies investigating any cognitive process, not just memory).

For example, when researchers take into account how aging adults remember things in day-to-day life, they start to get a different picture of the difficulties people experience with memory as they get older:

When people are tested in the lab and have nothing to rely on but their own memories, young adults typically do better than older adults, she said.

Remarkably, when the same studies are conducted in real-world settings, older adults sometimes outperform young adults at things like remember appointments or when to take medicines.

Assessing total cognitive burden

Here’s an interesting post to read about assessing and possibly reducing your risk of age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.

Some questions posed there:

Do you have ongoing stress in your life, or have experienced significant amounts of stress at some period during middle-age?

Do you rarely engage in exercise?

Do you spend most evenings blobbed out in front of the TV?

Reading through the possible risk factors you see some that you can’t control, such as genes and family history and your early childhood circumstances (for instance if you grew up in a very stressful home), but the list also emphasizes modifiable risk factors: amount of exercise, drinking habits, sleep habits, mental stimulation, etc. How all of those interact is still an open question. But when you think about it there never seems to be one trick, one magic way (or magic pill), that improves your long-term cognitive and physical health (which are closely intertwined). Instead it’s about making your life as healthy as possible all around, in multiple areas.