Is memory loss only an old age problem?December 9th, 2008 - 12:09 pm ICT by IANS
Bielefeld (Germany), Dec 9 (DPA) When an elderly person forgets a name or cannot remember why he has come to a sale counter, the usual question raised is whether forgetfulness has something to do with age.Author Cathryn Jakobson Ramin has personal experience of memory loss and has written about its deterioration with the progression of age.
Many people find the prospect of developing memory loss disconcerting, but experts say that in most cases, there is no reason to worry. At the age of 40, the average human memory has already put its best years of performance behind it.
After 40 years, memory begins to become less efficient, said Ramin who knows what it is like to suddenly forget the name of a person you frequently meet. It is very common for a middle-aged person to discover he can no longer remember a certain word or name.
Studies have found that elderly people are more likely than young people to use words such as “it” or “that thing” instead of a specific word.
But do humans become increasingly forgetful as they age? Scientists who study human memory believe it is not possible to say so with certainty. However, they can say that from the age of about 50, the memory’s autobiographical record slowly deteriorates, according to Hans Markowitsch.
The same applies to the memory’s ability to remember facts, but viewed from a wider perspective, people forget very little.
“However, we do lose the ability to remember everything at any moment of the day,” says Markowitsch who is a professor of psychology at the University of Bielefeld in Germany . Psychology professor Monika Knopf of Goethe University in Frankfurt, central Germany, also believes humans are generally very good at remembering facts even in old age.
Humans are good at remembering things linked to a specific situation, according to Knopf, so it is unlikely you will forget the name of your local baker.
“There are plenty of things to help you remember a name in a case like that,” she says.
But if you meet someone at a reception where you have been introduced to many people, then it can be very difficult to remember their name.
Franz Schermer, a psychologist at Wuerzburg Polytechnic, believes that has very little to do with advanced age. People in the 21st century are bombarded with huge volumes of information and this is simply unsuited to the human memory.
“When you grow old, the brain gets slower at processing information,” says Knopf. Elderly people often find it difficult to block out nuisance factors and concentrate on what is important.
But why we cannot remember the title of a film we saw just three weeks ago? “That’s a question of accessing information,” says Schermer.
“We have an almost unlimited, long-term memory. But it becomes more difficult to find that information.”
Schermer says memory is akin to a library. “If there is not a lot stored inside, then it’s easier to find a book.” But when we get old, the library is very full and it is difficult to find everything quickly.
Stress, pressure to perform and fear are bad for the memory. “If I’m always thinking about my memory problem, I will just end up blocking myself. That only makes the problem worse,” warns Schermer.