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Emotion and Memory Changes in Aging Adults Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology, Boston College.

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Presentation on theme: "Emotion and Memory Changes in Aging Adults Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology, Boston College."— Presentation transcript:

1 Emotion and Memory Changes in Aging Adults Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology, Boston College

2 Aging: Definition a continual process of change (does not begin at a particular point in time) affects different functions at different points in time -for athletes, “aging” may begin in 20s -for mental activities, “aging” usually noticed in 50s, although there is decline from 30s onward

3 Aging Mind: Aging Brain The brain is constantly changing Unused connections get pruned; used connections get strengthened This process continues throughout our life

4 Topics for Today What emotional and cognitive changes accompany healthy aging (with focus on memory)? What brain changes underlie these cognitive changes? What can a person do to minimize these changes?

5 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum)

6 Visual After-Effects ++ Caused by fatigue in brain cells located within retina of eye. If Yankees fans get fatigued at a game, you might only hear the roar of the Red Sox fans, even if you’re at a game played in NYC.

7 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum) The short duration of sensory memory explains why the visual aftereffect does not last very long.

8 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum) How sensory memory explains “change blindness”: Our sensory stores hold the information only briefly, not for a long enough time to help us detect the change -- unless we toggle between the images very quickly Key Researchers: D. Simons, C. Chabris

9 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum) Perceptual memory stored within the sensory regions that process the information. Occipital lobe (visual processing) Theses sensory regions undergo little change with age.

10 The Good News: Perceptual Memory Once sensory deficits (e.g., hearing loss, vision problems) are accounted for, aging does not usually result in a degradation in perceptual memory.

11 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum) How sensory memory explains “change blindness”: Our sensory stores hold the information only briefly, not for a long enough time to help us detect the change -- unless we toggle between the images very quickly

12 Phases of Memory Information in the world Perceptual Memory (very short term; about 1 sec maximum) However, if you ATTEND to the information, you can transfer the information to a memory store that is of longer duration.

13 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) ATTENTION When ATTEND to part of the environment, this helps information move beyond sensory stores and into working memory stores.

14 The Good News: Perceptual Memory This type of cue helps older adults more than it helps younger adults older adults more influenced by their goals and context than young adults Older adults devote resources to the information that is important to them or to the task at hand

15 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) ATTENTION

16 Working Memory Multiply 23 X 14 in your head

17 Working Memory = 322 Must hold the numbers in mind (through rehearsal) Must keep updating based on calculations that you’ve made Multiply 23 X 14 in your head Key Researchers: A. Baddeley

18 Working Memory Reliant on prefrontal cortex…a region that undergoes cell shrinkage & cell loss with age Young adultOlder adult

19 Working Memory Reliant on prefrontal cortex…a region that undergoes cell shrinkage & cell loss with age

20 Working Memory Reliant on prefrontal cortex Working memory declines with aging because of reductions in processing speed

21 Working Memory & Processing Speed Aging results in slowing of reaction time (the time it takes to respond to an event) Somewhat slower on “simple associative” tasks (e.g., hitting brakes in response to red light) Even more pronounced slowing on “complex choice” tasks (e.g., deciding whether to accelerate or brake at a yellow light) Key Researchers: T. Salthouse

22 Working Memory & Processing Speed Processing speed can affect the ability to hold information in mind, because by the time one part of a problem has been completed, other aspects of the problem may have been forgotten

23 Working Memory & Processing Speed Jimmy walks up to a store counter with 3 packs of gum, each costing 50 cents. He gives the sales clerk $5. Because the clerk is out of dollar bills, she gives Jimmy his change in quarters. How many quarters does Jimmy receive from the sales clerk? If it takes you longer to process “Jimmy walks up to a store counter with 3 packs of gum”, you may miss that they each cost 50 cents. If it takes you longer to multiply 3 by 50, you may have already forgotten that he gave the clerk $5.

24 Working Memory & Processing Speed Jimmy walks up to a store counter with 3 packs of gum, each costing 50 cents. He gives the sales clerk $5. Because the clerk is out of dollar bills, she gives Jimmy his change in quarters. How many quarters does Jimmy receive from the sales clerk? Processing speed deficits can impair performance even on tasks that are untimed!

25 The Aging Brain: Slowing Down Changes in the speed of neurotransmission (the passing of chemical and electrical signals from one brain cell to another) likely underlie these age- related changes in processing speed

26 The Aging Brain: Slowing Down These neurotransmission changes are particularly pronounced in the prefrontal cortex

27 The Good News: Processing Speed Although aging can lead to a slower reasoning through decisions, it can facilitate making a “gut decision” These “gut decisions” are often the optimal ones. Key researchers: T. Hess, F. Blanchard-Fields, A. Damasio

28 Working Memory Reliant on prefrontal cortex Working memory declines with aging, because of changes in processing speed and attention

29 Working Memory & Attention With age, it becomes harder to ignore irrelevant information (“cocktail party phenomenon”) It also becomes harder to switch between tasks with different requirements These difficulties can make it more difficult to hold relevant information in mind and to switch between different task requirements (e.g., the multiplication task requires multiple “phases”: multiplication, addition, storage of information, etc) Key Researchers: L. Hasher, R. Zacks

30 The Good News: Working Memory & Attention Older adults have extensive expertise to draw upon Can find connections between information that young adults have a harder time seeing This can often compensate for the difficulties with task-switching and with attention focusing Key Researchers: T. Hess, D. Schacter

31 Successful aging & working memory use it or lose it maintain mental flexibility maintain expertise organize information “chunk” information (think of 4 numbers together as a date): eliminate distractions reduce attention demands make information meaningful and self-relevant

32 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) Long-term Memory (minutes to years) ATTENTION Organizing, processing meaning & self-relevance

33 Long-Term Memory Must LEARN information (e.g., people’s names) Attend to information Process meaning of information Learning improves when use strategies to make information meaningful or to organize information (e.g., imagery, associations) Learning improved when stress minimized (reduce anxiety about remembering the information)

34 Long-Term Memory Must STORE information (e.g., people’s names) Requires functioning of the hippocampus This is one of the regions that shrinks some with aging, and even more with Alzheimer’s disease

35 Aging & Long-Term Memory Less activity in the hippocampus when older adults are trying to learn pictures than when young adults are trying to learn May be connected to inefficient storage of the information in older adults Key Researchers: R. Buckner, S. Corkin, D. Park, R. Sperling

36 Long-Term Memory Must RETRIEVE information (e.g., people’s names) Better when “cues” are given (e.g., if asked to select names from among alternatives) than when must generate the cues Much better when no similar, interfering information

37 Long-Term Memory The loss of cells in the hippocampus means that there tends to be more overlap in the cells representing different memories, causing more interference Also means that fewer cells may represent each memory, making memories less “rich” and less resilient

38 Aging & Long-Term Memory The loss of cells in the hippocampus means that there tends to be more overlap in the cells representing different memories, causing more interference On the plus side, this may make it easier for older adults to extract commonalities among experiences, to see the “whole picture” rather than just the details

39 The Good News: Long-Term Memory Aging enhances the ability to remember information that is emotionally positive and personally relevant Aging helps people use their memories for directive purposes: to reflect on their sense of self and on their relationships with close others, or to regulate their emotions. Key Researchers: L. Carstensen, M. Mather, A. Gutchess, T. Hess

40 Successful aging & long-term memory attend to the information think about why the information is important to remember organize the information - Don’t just use rote rehearsal - Clump like items together when trying to learn them; this will increase the likelihood that you will have retrieval cues - When leaning someone’s name, associate it with other information about that person - Use mental imagery to help you remember (e.g., as your placing your keys on the table, close your eyes and imagine the action) use spaced rehearsal (why cramming for an exam never did work)

41 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) Long-term Memory (minutes to years) Remote Memory (many years) Semantic Memory (factual knowledge)

42 Remote Memory & Semantic Memory Over time, memory is no longer is dependent on the hippocampus Instead, the surrounding cortical regions become able to support the memory These memories tend to be more resilient, and are less affected by brain damage, aging, or the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease Key Researchers: L. Nadel, M. Moscovitch

43 Remote Memory & Semantic Memory Lots and lots of repetition spread out over many years causes this transition

44 Semantic Memory No longer contains details about the time and place in which the learning occurred There was a specific time when you learned that the Eiffle Tower was in France … but most of you probably cannot tell me when that was World knowledge & factual information (vocabulary, etc)

45 Semantic Memory Reliant on the temporal lobe cortex This region is preserved with aging In fact, older adults tend to have much better semantic memory than young adults (perform better on tasks of vocabulary & world knowledge)

46 Remote Memory These memories can include information about the time and place in which an event occurred. Often, this feels like “family lore,” or the re-telling of stories that you have often heard. These memories are typically preserved with aging. - It can be harder to remember what happened last week than to remember what happened 40 years ago.

47 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) Long-term Memory (minutes to years) Remote Memory (many years) Semantic Memory (factual knowledge) primary sensory regions frontal lobe neocortex (outer layers of brain) hippocampus

48 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) Long-term Memory (minutes to years) Remote Memory (many years) Semantic Memory (factual knowledge) primary sensory regions frontal lobe neocortex (outer layers of brain) hippocampus

49 Phases of Memory Information in the world Working (Short-Term) Memory (~45 sec maximum) Perceptual Memory (very short term; 1-2 sec maximum) Long-term Memory (minutes to years) Remote Memory (many years) Semantic Memory (factual knowledge) Rehearsal over long periods of time organizing info. & avoiding distraction allows for better learning use of strategies (associations, mental imagery) increases accessibility & durability of memory attending to, rehearsing, and noting importance of information increases the likelihood of conversion to long-term memory

50 Strategies for Successful Aging “Use it or lose it!” –Individuals who remain mentally active perform better on cognitive tasks than those who engage in mental activity less often Use strategies to help remember information –One of the largest changes with age is the decline in the spontaneous use of mnemonic strategies to remember information –Yet when told what strategies to use, older adults can use them just as effectively as young adults Avoid distraction and excessive worry as try to learn information

51 Research supported by funding from NIH MH080833, the National Science Foundation, the Dana Foundation, and the Searle Scholars Program bc.edu Boston College Eric Allard Ranga Atapattu Alisha Holland Anne Krendl Christina Leclerc Brendan Murray Keely Muscatell Katherine Schmidt Katherine Mickley Steinmetz Jill Waring Harvard University Daniel Schacter Bob Stickgold Notre Dame Jessica Payne Massachusetts General Hospital Robert Waldinger University of Auckland Donna Addis Brandeis University Angela Gutchess Texas A&M Commerce Benton Pierce Thank You


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