Elders and stress

Memory and Aging


It is often assumed that aging is synonymous with memory loss. Negative stereotypes regarding the aging process are quite prevalent in our society, and they tend to portray older adults as a group of individuals with evident declines in physical and cognitive health. Individuals of different age groups tend to believe that these judgments are true. However, most of us know individuals that have remained mentally sharp until the end. Recent research on successful aging has also demonstrated that such stereotypes are inaccurate, as there is a great degree of variability in aging when comparing individuals. Such variability may be due to a combination of both genetic and lifestyle factors. Whereas memory problems may occur in cases of Alzheimer’s disease or other existing health condition, successful aging may be associated with un-changed memory performance.

Negative aging stereotypes have been shown to be associated with negative mental health outcomes and deficient cognitive performance among older adults. Additionally, they may prevent older adults from making efforts to protect their physical health and cognitive functioning. An important source of concern that emerges from negative aging stereotypes is the belief that memory loss is a natural part of aging. This has many implications for older adults, considering that their family members and themselves may not take the appropriate steps and seek professional help when they notice signs of memory loss. This may be due to the belief that such rapid declines are normal and therefore nothing can be done.

So which types of memory errors are not serious, and which ones are? The following lists offer examples of common complaints, which are not necessarily problematic, and may in fact happen to individuals of different age groups:

  • Forgetting the name of a person one has just met
  • ==--Forgetting a small detail of an event or experience
  • Having difficulty concentrating when trying to perform many tasks at the same time

On the contrary, the following list below offers examples of memory problems that may indicate the presence of a more serious problem.

  • Changes in memory functioning that have an impact on daily functioning
  • Forgetting the name of a family member, or not recognizing their face
  • Problems remembering how to do things done on a daily basis
  • Memory problems that worsen rapidly over time
  • Forgetting things much more frequently than previously

Some of these memory impairments could be a sign of pathological aging. For more information, we invite you to consult the section on Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease.