Stop worrying, think positive to avoid memory loss

Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:25pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Think positive, especially if you want to retain a good memory as you age.

That's the advice of scientists at North Carolina State University who found that expecting to have a diminishing memory with age could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a study published in the journal Experimental Aging Research, they found that seniors who do not believe in the negative stereotype that memory loss is a natural occurrence in old age did better on tests than other elderly people.

"Older people will perform more poorly on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that particular type of memory test," Dr Tom Hess, who headed the study, said in a statement.

He and his team tested memory performance of adults 60 to 70 years old and others who were 71 to 82. In addition to doing more poorly in tests if they bought into the negative stereotype of aging and memory, seniors also performed poorly if they thought they were stigmatized, or looked down on, because of their age.

"Such situations may be part of older adults' everyday experience, such as being concerned about what others think of them at work having a negative effect on their performance - and thus potentially reinforcing the negative stereotypes," said Hess.

The negative effects were strongest in adults with the highest level of education, according to the researchers.

But on the plus side, if seniors have a more positive view of aging their memory performance scores are higher.

"The take-home message is that social factors may have a negative effect on older adults' memory performance," he added.