DOES MEMORY INEVITABLY DECLINE WITH AGE? Certain types of memory do deteriorate as we get older. Yet studies have shown that not all types degenerate. In examining this question, psychologists distinguish among at least three (and maybe more) kinds of memory:
is used to recall specific events.
recalls information and experience, facts and knowledge.
is exercised in such automatic skills as driving, typing or hitting a golf ball.
Of these three, only episodic memory worsens significantly with age. Semantic memory, far from deteriorating, actually seems to improve as we get older. And though the skills in which implicit memory is exercised might degenerate, the faculty itself does not decline. Also, you can compensate for the decline in episodic memory. Developing strategies such as writing notes to yourself can help fix ideas in your mind. You can talk or think about events after they happen, a tactic that seems to transfer episodic memories into the semantic memory, making it part of our accumulated experience.
An exercise was suggested to me that might help overcome problems with episodic memory by connecting them to semantic memories. Suppose that you constantly misplace your address book. (For the purposes of this activity, the psychological reasons for misplacing the address book should be considered irrelevant.) The following steps might make it easier for you to avoid this habitual forgetfulness.
- Write yourself a short note saying, "Hand, I will not misplace this book again. I will remember what I do with it!" Place the note on the book.
- Read the note aloud two times.
- Link your commitment to remember with your long-term memories associated with the address book, particularly those with strong emotional content, such as important recollections triggered by the names it contains.