Memory involves many areas of the brain, and scientists think that the most important areas for memory actually shift as we get older. This article from the Jewish Home’s Research Institute sheds new light on the issue of memory loss.
Scientists have observed that the frontal region of the brain is particularly important in young people with good memory, but the occipital region is more important in older people with good memory.
When scientists study memory, they look at three different processes: Acquisition (getting the information in your brain), storage (filing the information away in a good place), and retrieval (your ability to find the information you stored). Now when we say we “forgot” something, we are often having a problem with the retrieval process. In other words, we may have gotten the information in and stored it well, but now we can’t find it!
But what if you never got the information in your head to begin with? (That’s the acquisition part). Researchers say, and this will hardly come as a surprise, that one of the biggest changes as we age is that, mentally, we slow down. Studies show that speed may be the biggest difference between memory in the young and old. For example, if you read a story once to a 20-year-old and a 70-year-old, chances are, on average, the youngster will remember more of it.
However, and here’s the good news, if you allow the older person more practice (called exposure time), they are usually able, when tested later, to recall as much as the 20-year-old. Why is this important? Because it suggests that we can compensate for some normal age-related changes in memory with a little work. You may not be able to read a newspaper article in the morning and expect to have it on the tip of your tongue at dinner, but if you’re willing to practice and rehearse the information longer, you may be surprised by how much you can still learn and remember.