Memory, intelligence and language are three areas to human development extensively studied by scientists to help explain how these areas vary and adapt over the course of a human’s life. Human’s age, causing how we process information to differ than how we did in infancy or childhood. The benefits to understanding how our memory can be affected or how we process and retain information is important because, as most adults realize, having a higher quality life is related to our cognitive state. As philosopher Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am”.
Memory is defined as being retention of information over a span of time. It is necessary in every area of our life and is related to, biologically, the prefrontal lobe of our brain, which develops by the age of three. As we age, studies have found that our working memory, or that which allows us to manipulate and assemble information, peaks at 45 years of age but then declines at 57 years of age. This is the memory type that helps us comprehend language, both written and spoken. Another valuable type of memory is called prospective memory, and this memory type has been studied extensively as it related directly to aging and the recall of day to day independent living. In 2011, Psychologist Schnitzspahn’s in depth study of prospective memory involved using emotional task material while subjects of various ages were instructed to memorize certain words. This research ultimately discovered that emotional memory effects are unchanged regardless of the age group and showed that the older group had essentially the same ability to remember what they were instructed to as the younger group. In another recent research study, the use of distraction on younger versus older subjects investigated how age affects recall. These participants of all ages read stories that included distracting words and then measured the response of the recall of the stories. The results of this study found that older adults had more difficulty is suppressing previous irrelevant information than the younger subjects. This information points to the older individuals having more difficulty switching tasks and taking a longer time in doing so. Further, this particular research points out that although there are differences in memory and processing information, all ages showed a capacity to do the same quality of work, but took different paths to get there.
Individuals have to adjust to and cope with the possible constraints of aging. There are a variety of changing opportunities that arise in different stages of the lifespan, but it is up to the individual how to take advantage of those. Certainly, biological changes occur throughout the lifespan which may alter a path an individual wishes to take. This general trajectory of first increasing and then decreasing opportunities is shrouded with more domain-specific paths of both improving and declining prospects for accomplishing specific life goals. Society places a set of expectations on all of us, such as the educational system, career patterns and retirement which structure our way of thinking throughout our lives. Unfortunately for some, these societal expectations constrain the individual into thinking that, for example, they are too old to return to school to finish a degree they started years prior or may be too timeworn to start on a new career path. The individual needs to come to terms with diminished chances of attaining important life goals but at the same time, realize that not every door in life is closed. As the studies above have proven, while the aging process may make us learn differently or memorize words in an altered way, this by no means should discourage us into thinking that we have somehow lost our value, neither as an individual nor as a member of society.