Memory decline over the lifespan

See also: Decay theory

Memory decline over the lifespan is part of the mechanism of memory formation.

As we get older, our central nervous system tends to slow, and retrieving information which once was almost automatic may become more difficult. How much memory declines with time varies from person to person (sometimes, individuals can resist memory decline through ‘brain training’), but there appear to be trends which we can follow, relating to the different types of memory.

Memory decline in sensory memory

Old age appears to often come with limitations on how much sensory information can be attended to and encoded. Compared to adolescence and early adulthood, there is a decline in the effectiveness and efficiency of sensory memory.

Memory decline in short-term memory

Whilst it appears that very simple tasks are scarcely affected by age, the ease of completion of complicated tasks (in working memory) may be degenerative. Both verbal and visual short-term memory is affected, but verbal stimuli to a much greater degree. Retrieving information from short-term memory may require more effort with age.

Memory decline in long-term memory

Procedural long-term memory appears to be largely unaffected by age, however general cognition slows and there may be a decline in semantic and, particularly, episodic memory. In terms of retrieval of existing information, recall is significantly impacted whereas recognition is not. Encoding new information becomes much more difficult with old age.