Age not to blame for fading memories

By Craig Borley

If "senior moments" are becoming more frequent, you can no longer blame seniority.

The well-worn assumption that memory loss and old age go hand in hand has been proven wrong by a team of Australian researchers.

The Melbourne study found that although some mental skills deteriorate with old age, people in their 80s and even 90s do not forget things at a greater rate than those just starting down the path to old age.

Two hundred Victorian men and women aged between 65 and 94 sat through four hours of memory tests for the study.

It found the capacity to take in information remained steady between the ages of 65 and 80, but dropped in the over-80 age group.

But of the information that the subjects were able to take in, the percentage they were able to recall after a delay was the same regardless of age

The study found people's memory bucket shrank slightly with age, but once information was taken in it was there to stay.

The study also found age did not affect the rate of learning new information or the ability to recognise the new information when it was presented to them later.

But the ability to deal with complex ideas, or think in a more abstract way, did deteriorate after 80.

Dr Ngaire Kerse, Auckland University associate professor of general practice and primary health, told the Weekend Herald the perception old age caused memory loss came from the large percentage of old-aged people with memory-affecting conditions.

"But if you find someone of old age without a disease of the brain, their memory won't be affected. And we all have examples of these people in our realms. But they're rare."

Professor Kerse said we lived in a "very ageist state" and it was not common knowledge people's brain cells kept growing, even into old age.

* A FEW MINUTES AGO, OR BACK TO THE FIRST CAR

Fred Allen, former All Black captain and coach - 88

"My memory's fine, my short- and long-term memory is fine.

"I still remember players and scores from the 1930s, when I was 10 years old."

Les Mills, gym founder, former Auckland City mayor - 73

"I haven't noticed any memory loss. I still seem to have good recall - recent, medium and long term.

"I don't think there is anything within old age that causes memory loss. I can still look back on what happened 15 minutes ago, and I can still remember my youth very well."

Dorothy Jelicich, former MP for Hamilton West and Manukau City councillor - 80

"It [her memory] is 80 years old! It's not as good as it could be."

Rt Hon Bob Tizard, former deputy prime minister and health minister, current Auckland District Health Board member - 83

"When I went on the board some of them were quite concerned. They thought I wouldn't be up to it. But they now know I know more than most of the rest of the board put together."

He said he could still remember quite clearly things that happened when he was two or three. He could even remember the number plate of his first car, a Hillman 10, which he bought from the Herald in 1948 "for more than they paid for it 10 years earlier". The plate number was 28927.

- NZ Herald

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