Perception Trumps Reality When It Comes To Aging And Memory

Want to feel five years older in just five minutes? Just take a memory test.

Participants in a recent study, ages 65 to 85, said they felt an average of five years older after taking a simple memory test. Researchers at Texas A&M University gave 22 adults a brief test on their ability to recall information and their basic cognitive functioning, asking participants to write down how old they felt both before and after the test.

Before the simple test, the participants said they felt around 58.5 years old on average on a scale of zero to 120 -- almost 17 years younger than their actual average age.

After the test, however, they said they felt an average of 63.1 years old. In a matter of minutes, the participants perceived age rose nearly five years.

"Previous work shows that how old one feels -- one's subjective age -- predicts significant health outcomes, even better than one's chronological age predicts these outcomes," senior researcher Lisa Geraci said in a release. "These new results are exciting because they suggest that subjective age is malleable, and that we may be able to change subjective age and influence older adults' cognition and behavior."

Forgetfulness is no doubt a common stereotype for older people. A study at the University of Southern California tested adults ages 59-79 on the impact of aging stereotypes and found that participants were 50 percent more likely to test poorly on a memory test after reading fake news stories about memory loss in older adults.

In the Texas A&M study, the participants felt older even though their performance on the test didn't actually show any problems with their memory. In fact, perceived age didn't change for participants when they were asked to take a vocabulary test instead.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of age-related memory loss was also shown in a North Carolina State study that found older adults were more likely to perform poorly on a memory test if they believed people their age wouldn't do well.

Judging by these studies, older adults need to tune out the negativity and let perceptions of aging and memory loss go in one ear and out the other. And maybe avoid playing Go Fish.



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