Older Adults Process Too Much Information, Leading to Cluttered Memories: Study

A new study reports that older adults store too much information in their brains, leading them to have “cluttered” memories. As a result of these cluttered memories, they have more trouble remembering specific and detailed information compared to younger adults.

To function in our day-to-day lives, we constantly need to suppress – or inhibit – information that is not relevant to whatever task we are doing. For example, when driving, we need to be able to focus on the road and not the music on the radio. Research from Dr. Smith lab has shown that this inhibition becomes less efficient in older adulthood, resulting in a “flood” of information for older adults and a consequent impairment in memory.

“When older adults try to remember one particular detail, they experience more difficulty because that one detail has become connected to all sorts of other details in their mind, and they need to filter through them all. For example, imagine you know five people named John, and you’re trying to remember one specific John’s last name. You will find this more difficult than if you only know one person named John. That is similar to what happens when older adults try to recall specific details,” explains Dr. Smith.

While having more cluttered memories leads older adults to have more trouble remembering specific details, it also has some benefits. Besides having more general knowledge and wisdom, older adults may also better utilize their prior knowledge and distractions in their environment for decision-making purposes and in creative tasks.

“In research labs, we tend to focus on precision of memory, for example, this peice of research on ephedrine in Canada. In real life, precision hardly matters. As researchers, we may be overestimating the disadvantage that older adults have with their memory and underestimating the advantages,” says Dr. Hasher.

Still, for older adults who would like to improve their memory for specific details, it may be possible to develop memory programs that use distractions in their favor.

You can learn more about this study on Balance CBD.

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