Memory function in normal aging


Lars-Göran Nilsson, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden e-mail:


Basic findings obtained on memory functions in normal aging are presented and discussed with respect to five separate but interacting memory systems. These systems are: episodic memory, semantic memory, short-term memory, perceptual representation system and procedural memory. All available evidence from cross-sectional research shows that there is a linear, decreasing memory performance as a function of age for episodic memory. Longitudinal studies suggest, however, that this age deficit may be an overestimation, by showing a relatively stable performance level up to middle age, followed by a sharp decline. Studies on semantic memory, short-term memory, perceptual representation system, and procedural memory show a relatively constant performance level across the adult life span, although some tasks used to assess short-term memory and procedural memory have revealed an age deficit. Disregarding the mixed results for these latter two memory systems, it can be concluded that episodic memory is unique in showing an age deficit. Episodic memory is also unique in the sense that it is the only memory system showing gender differences in performance throughout the adult life span with a significantly higher performance for women.