Lapses in memory occur more frequently with age, yet the reasons for this increasing forgetfulness have not always been clear.
However, new research shows that older individuals have reduced learning and memory because their minds are cluttered up with useless information when performing tasks.
“The first step of our study was to test the working memory of a younger and older population and compare the results,” says Mervin Blair, study co-author and doctoral student in psychology at Concordia University.
“In our study, working memory refers to the ability of both retaining and processing information,” adds Blair, reports The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Half of the 60 study participants had an average age of 23 years, while the other half was about 67 years old. Each one was asked to perform a working memory task, which included recalling and processing different pieces of information, according to a Concordia statement.
“Overall, we showed that our older participants had reduced working memory compared to our younger participants,” says Blair. “Younger adults were better than the older adults at recalling and processing information.”
The next step was to determine if there was a timeframe when the ability to delete irrelevant information, known as inhibition deletion, changed.
Images were displayed in a random order and participants were required to respond to each image in a pre-learned manner.
Once again, the youngsters outperformed their older counterparts. “The older adults had poor inhibition, repeatedly responding to previously relevant images,” says Blair.
“Basically, older adults are less able to keep irrelevant information out of their consciousness, which then impacts on other mental abilities.”
For those who are having trouble remembering, Blair suggests that focussing and reducing mental clutter may help. “Reduce clutter, if you don’t, you may not get anything done.”