MEMORY AND THE ELDERLY PERSON
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The purpose of this study was to explore selected aspects of memory in non-mentally impaired elderly persons. The problem was to determine whether the memory deficit generally ascribed to the elderly is as severe as has been suggested, as well as to find ways of improving memory in later life.;There were a total of 115 subjects consisting of a young control group of 20 college students and 95 community dwelling and institutionalized individuals in three age groups: young-elderly, between 65 to 74 years, middle-elderly, between 75 to 84 years, and very old, between 85 to 95 years. There were 30 members of the Riverdale Senior Center in the young-elderly group, and 20 members in one of the middle-elderly groups. There were 30 residents of the Hebrew Home for the Aged in the other middle-elderly group, and 15 residents in the very old group.;Elderly subjects were initially screened to rule out memory loss associated with cerebral impairment. Two memory tests were selected: picture recognition and short-term letter recall. Both were self-paced. On the recognition task, subjects viewed a series of 150 pictures. They then were shown a subsample of 18 pictures previously seen with 18 new pictures in test pairs. The subjects' task was to identify which picture in each pair they remembered seeing previously. On the letter recall test, subjects viewed 15 randomly presented letters of the alphabet and their task was to remember as many as they could in any order.;The elderly subjects' memory for a relatively large number of diverse, complex, and meaningful pictures was excellent. Mean percentage correct recognition of the test pairs was high, 93% or above for each of the groups, and there were no significant differences among the groups in picture recognition scores. There were three main differences between the young and elderly on the recognition task: (a) The elderly used much more time than the young while inspecting the pictures. (b) Many of the elderly used a predominantly social strategy in their attempt to remember the pictures, describing the pictures to E; young subjects used strategies that did not include E. (c) Some of the aged did not complete the series of pictures but all of the young completed the series presented.;On the letter recall test, there was a significant decline in performance in the very old age group. The young subjects' scores were approximately one-third better than those of the eldest subjects. Yet, when a spontaneous strategy was developed such as going through the alphabet methodologically, significant age differences disappeared. In addition, the use of a strategy significantly improved the letter recall scores of each of the elderly groups but not those of the young. Mental status, number of activities engaged in, educational level, and degree of self-reported depression were more important factors than advanced age in letter recall scores of the elderly. In general, place of residence did not appear to be a significant determinant of memory test performance.;Most subjects seemed to enjoy the tasks and to put some effort into trying to remember the pictures and letters. When the elderly were motivated enough to develop their own retention strategies, their memory improved. Encouraging older persons to build on their recognition memory strengths would be of value to memory functioning in later life. A picture recognition task was found on which non-mentally impaired elderly persons did relatively well when compared with young persons.