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One-third of people over 90 can retain and recall new info just as well as young people


(NaturalNews) Growing older isn't exactly something we look forward to. But fortunately, there are some things we can do to keep our brains sharp as we enter into our senior years. Keep Your Brain Young, written by Guy McKhann and Marilyn Albert, examines memory function in the elderly, as well as techniques for maintaining optimal brain power. The following is a snippet from the book:

Memory changes with age

In middle age many people start to notice that their memory seems to be slipping a bit. This is particularly true when they are tired or under stress. Naturally, they get worried that more serious troubles lie ahead. It is comforting to know that even as late as age 90, about one-third of both men and women can take in new information and recall it later every bit as well as they did when they were younger.

For many of the other two-thirds, memory continues to function quite well. But that does not mean that there are not changes. The large majority of healthy older people can expect some changes in memory function, not limiting, but troubling to the individual experiencing them. These changes include taking longer to learn new things and having trouble remembering names and strings of numbers.

Learning slower but well

It takes longer for the average older person to take in new information and retain it. Actually, if it is a small amount of information, such as a phone number, then an older person will do just as well, if he or she is really paying attention.

In contrast, with larger amounts of information, such as a set of directions to a new location or the story line of a new joke, an older person will typically require more time and more repetitions to remember these details accurately.

But all the evidence indicates that if an older person takes the time to learn something well, he or she will remember it as accurately as someone many decades younger. Thus, although older people think they are forgetting things more easily, in fact, what is happening is that they are not learning them as well in the first place.

Our friend Ellen is a good example of this. She decided to learn Tai Chi, the Chinese exercise ritual, at the same time that her grandson wanted to take lessons so they took them together. During the first few weeks, it became clear that her grandson was learning the formal motor movements at a much faster rate than his grandmother.

At first she felt discouraged, but being a determined person she decided to persevere. As it happened, her grandson had to go back to school and was unable to continue taking lessons. Over the next few months, Ellen learned all of the Tai Chi movement routines that her grandson had learned so quickly. When the grandson returned from school, he was amazed at his grandmother's skill. As Ellen proudly explained, "It took me longer but once I learned them they stuck."

People with exceptional memories

If you ask people who had exceptional memories when they were young if their memory is as good as it used to be, they usually say no, and they will be very specific about what they can no longer remember as well. For example, the physician who used to be able to read an article in a medical journal and tell you not only the contents of the article but also where certain things were on the page will regret that he can no longer do that.

Likewise, the retired stockbroker who once could keep track of the daily changes in the prices of hundreds of stocks no longer feels able to do it. But it is not clear whether the physician's and broker's perception of their memory is correct; it may be that it takes daily practice to accomplish such feats, and perhaps, if they tried, they could still do it successfully.

Although there have been many studies of memory changes with age, we actually do not know if people who had exceptional memory abilities when they were young maintain them, because the tests used to evaluate memory are too easy to present an effective challenge for these people.

To learn more about how the human brain behaves as we grow older, pick up a copy of Keep Your Brain Young here.


McKhann, G. and Albert, M. (2002) Keep your brain young: the complete guide to physical and emotional health and longevity: John Wiley & Sons

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