Memory and It’s Functions

Memory is not a single construct. Rather, memory is a system comprised of three processes. As you age, each of the three processes commonly shows unique changes:

Encoding

‘Encoding’ means to receive or attend to information. When you are the one who determines the pace at which information is received and the task is a familiar one (e.g., reading a newspaper article), then the ability to encode information does not seem to change with age.

In contrast, encoding skills decline with age when the task is unfamiliar or when the pace of delivery of information occurs quickly.

Storage

Your brain has a certain capacity to store information. Information that has been encoded or learned is held in storage for anywhere from a brief period of time (‘sensory memory’), such as a few seconds, to a few minutes, (‘short-term memory’) to years (‘long-term memory’) to decades (‘remote memory’). Older adults typically show some age-related loss in long-term memory but not in sensory, short-term, or remote memory.

Retrieval

‘Retrieval’ refers to the process of recalling information on demand. There are age-related changes in the retrieval process with older adults typically having greater difficulty spontaneously recalling information without any cues. When aided by cues, however, older adults show similar capability as younger adults in the process of memory retrieval.

Psychologists have identified several different types of memory:

Sensory (immediate)

The duration of sensory memory is a matter of seconds. Sensory memory does not decline with age.

  • Short Term

Short term memory is defined as lasting for about 30 seconds or the ability to hold approximately 7 pieces of information, such as a telephone number. Short term memory shows no significant age-related change.

  • Long Term

Long term memory includes memories that persist for anywhere from a few minutes to several days to many years. Long term memory shows the most significant age-related decline when compared with all other types of memory.

  • Remote

Remote memory involves memories from decades past, such as childhood or adolescent experiences. Remote memory does not show age-related decline.

Semantic (trivia)

Semantic memory refers to the ability to remember general knowledge and word meanings. Semantic memory does not decline with age and, in fact, may improve with age.

Episodic (personal)

Episodic memory includes autobiographical events. Episodic memory will typically show age-related decline.

Prospective (future)

Prospective memory is the ability to remember events that will take place in the future, such as a doctor’s appointment. Prospective memory will typically show age-related decline.

Procedural (skills)

Procedural memory refers to memory for learned skills such as swimming, riding a bicycle, or playing bridge. Procedural memory does not decline with age.

Most individuals who utilize our services typically come from within the following categories:

  • Individuals who are concerned that their memory loss is beyond what is to be expected from normal aging.
  • Individuals who want baseline memory testing to track memory abilities over time.
  • Individuals with a known medical condition who require a comprehensive memory and/or cognitive assessment.
  • Individuals who may be suffering memory loss and cognitive impairment as a secondary condition to an underlying disease.
  • Individuals who may be suffering memory loss and cognitive impairment as a result of a head injury or other trauma to the brain.

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