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Do older adults benefit from the use of reminders as memory aids?

Posted by Georgie Cade (Admin) 1 month ago

This blog was written for Age Innovation Hub by Chiara Scarampi, a research associate at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Chiara works with Dr Sam Gilbert to understand how external tools and reminders can be used to optimise memory, and in particular the remembering of future intentions and planned actions (for example, remembering to return a rented book or call a friend at an appointed time). This topic is highly relevant when considering how technologies can help us age more healthily and remain independent throughout the lifespan. 

The ageing process can lead to subtle changes in memory so that it might take longer to learn new information and we might forget things more easily than in the past. Although forgetfulness is part of the normal ageing process, memory failures can be frustrating and, sometimes, have severe consequences, such as forgetting to take medications, or taking multiple doses because we don’t remember if we have already taken a medication.

These are concerns common with age and the UCL Age Innovation Hub community has posted a few comments on the topic (https://ageinnovationhub.crowdicity.com/post/3668181). 

There are several memory aids that can help remember important everyday tasks, such as calendars and lists, but little is known about whether they are used effectively to compensate for age-related changes in memory.

In a recent study, published in Psychology and Aging, we explored how effective the use of reminders is for older adults compared to younger adults.

In the study, a group of older adults (aged 65-84) and a group of younger adults (aged 18-30) performed a brief task where they had to remember information either using their own memory or with the help of external reminders. This was followed by a memory test to investigate whether age differences in memory were reduced (or disappear) when participants were allowed to use reminders to help themselves remember.

When using their own memory, the older group remembered less information than the younger group. Additionally, older adults were overconfident in their ability to remember information and did not fully benefit from the possibility of using reminders to support their memory. 

Overestimation of their memory abilities may lead older adults to avoid using external aids, even though they can be highly effective. This result points to the importance of designing interventions aimed at helping older adults better evaluate their abilities and promote optimal use of external memory aids, with the final goal of supporting older adults’ independence and health-related behaviours such as remembering to take medications.

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