MANY studies have shown that increasing age results in a deficiency in ability to acquire new skills and information. However, the commonly held view that older people manifest an impairment in the retention of acquired material has received equivocal support from laboratory investigations. Even Inglis’s recent demonstration of a loss with age in short-term memory is confined to an hypothesized storage system with a limit of approximately 4 sec. I wish to direct attention to the results of an experiment which suggests that the aged show special defects in the remembering of acquired material stored over longer periods of time. These defects seem to be due to a loss in ability to retrieve memories from storage rather than a deficiency in the storage system itself.
‘Until now it was thought that older people should be able to form memories in just the same way as younger people, so overcoming memory problems would simply involve restoring this ability,’ added Professor Giese. ‘However, our results suggest this is not true, and that there is an important biological difference in how memories are stored in old age compared to young adulthood.’
The results may have implications for conditions where memory recall is a problem, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Professor Giese suggests that ageing should be taken into consideration when treating patients with PTSD, since confronting and modifying traumatic memories is a core feature of some psychological treatments such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy.