Memory Failing? Be More Social

Study shows how memory of older adults can match that of younger people

Study shows how memory of older adults can match that of younger people

It is widely understood that with age comes deterioration in memory function. With surveys showing up to half of older adults complain about decreased everyday memory function.

This memory decline is seen fairly consistently even in older adults who are otherwise considered very healthy, the decline is thought to be most prominent in over 60’s.

A new study recently published in the journal Memory aimed to examine if a change in learning situation might help older persons overcome age-related learning and memory changes. (Derksen et al., 2014)

In short, the aim of the present study was to investigate the question of whether a learning situation that emphasised collaborative social interaction might help older persons overcome age-related learning and memory changes and thus perform similarly to younger persons

The researchers from the University of Iowa recruited 2 sets of participants, a Younger group of 17 participants, aged 25–50 years and an Older group of 17 participants, aged 60–85 years.

The participants paired up with a member of the opposite group and carried out a ‘Barrier test’ that was used as a measure of memory.

This test was repeated over time to establish how memory and task-solving changed over time in the 2 groups.

The researchers found that while the Older participants could not match the performance of the Younger group to begin with, over time this changed:

Older participants started with inferior performance compared to Younger participants. As the task progressed, however, the Older group caught up—and by the latter part of the task, the Older group was statistically indistinguishable from the Younger

The Older participants could not only match the performance but kept on all elements that were measured:

all three dependent measures, namely, time to completion, number of words and number of turns

The study concludes that as the task involved in the research was comparable to real-world communication this type of learning and memory is useful for Older people to aid memory.

These results can be taken to suggest that a learning milieu characterised by collaborative social interaction can vitiate some of the typical memory disadvantages associated with older age.

These results match with findings in other areas of research that suggest social interaction and involvement may provide a protection against cognitive decline.