Effects of Aging on Memory

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The memory of individuals declines with age. There are two explanations on why this happens. The neurological approach explains that there is deterioration in the three parts of the brain, called the memory network, responsible for creating and controlling memory. Specifically, the deterioration is in the nerve fibers in the white matter of the brain. The atrophy on these parts of the brain affects the ability of individuals to receive stimulus, store information, consolidate information, and retrieve information, which comprise the memory process.

The cognitive approach explains that deterioration in these parts of the brain affects the psychological processes, such as the retrieval of information and speed in storing and retrieving information needed in the memory function. There is a general impression that memory declines with age. This is due to observations of the tendency of older people to forget things that they normally remember sharply when they were younger. Older people are also likely to require repetition in processing stimulus.

Memory pertains to the individual ability to accumulate, preserve and recall information. Memory also refers to the process of encoding information through cognitive processes, the storing of information as short and/or long-term memory, and retrieval of information as response to cues or stimulus. The brain is the central organ charged with controlling memory. The correlative link between aging and memory lies in the changes in the brain and brain functioning that co-occurs with the process of ageing.

This means that aging affects memory. Understanding the effects of aging on memory has multi-dimensional significance to professional practice such as in developing interventions for Alzheimer’s disease and developing drugs and cognitive exercises to prevent the decline in memory, as far as prevention is possible. The discussion considers evidence to explain the effects of aging on memory. Research Evidence The bulk of evidence explaining the effects of aging on memory involves two approaches, the neurological and cognitive approach.

The neurological approach considers the physiological aspects of aging that affects the parts of the brain responsible in creating and controlling memory. The cognitive approach considers the effects of age on the brain expressed through psychological functions such as perception, comprehension, logic and emotions. These psychological functions affect the ability of the brain to create and control memory. The premise of both approaches is memory as a fractionated process because of the different types of memory localized to different parts of the brain.

The effects of aging on memory depend on the effect of aging on different parts of the brain and the impact on various types of memory. The neurological approach views memory as localized in three parts of the brain called memory network. First is the posterior associational neocortex that acts as the repository of information. Second is the medial temporal lobe that consolidates the storage of memory. Third is the prefrontal cortex that supports the retrieval of memory. These areas support the capacity of individuals to amass, preserve and recover memories.

(Small, 2001) The normal aging process and pathological factors linked to aging can affect these parts of the brain selectively. The normal ageing process affects memory. This is because of the degradation of the axon or nerve fibers in the white matter of the brain responsible for sending signals from one brain cell or region to another in the process of creating memory. The erosion of the white matter of the brain that contains nerve fibers has the effect of disrupting communication between the regions of the brain involved in creating and controlling memory. This leads to memory gap or deficits. (Small, 2001)

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