Remember your first kiss?

When it comes to autobiographical memory, older and younger adults remember this milestone differently. As we age, we may not remember the details of our first kiss as vividly as when we were younger but, at least, with age comes wisdom. Older adults tend to express thoughts or feelings about the event in a more interesting and worldly manner.

When an older adult describes autobiographical events from the past, they tend to take a more broad and integrative approach. They are more likely to embed events with more factual details that are personally relevant to the individual but do not pertain to the specific event,” explains Daniela Palombo, a graduate student at Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest.

“For example, if asked to describe a wedding that she attended, before the older woman actually describes the details, she may provide information about who the people getting married are or how she knows them and then go on to provide the specifics about the event. Older individuals tend to provide more of these broad details than younger people do. Perhaps this is because they do not remember as much about the event so they compensate by providing information about the context.”

This is a normal part of aging. Our ability to retrieve the details of past events becomes more difficult as we age. But on the positive side, the ability to recall semantic information, such as general facts, is preserved. However, the degree to which episodic memory declines with age differs among individuals.

Baycrest researchers looking at what may influence episodic memory

A new study led by Dr. Brian Levine, senior scientist at Rotman Research Institute, is looking at how different types of memory, along with personality, sleep habits and genes, influence our episodic memory — our ability to remember the details of an event in our lives. For example, does the amount of sleep you get influence the capacity of your episodic memory to remain intact? What about differences in personality? How well do these factors relate to each other? How does aging fit into this?

“The first part of this study is an online questionnaire to measure episodic autobiographical memory in healthy participants of all ages,” says Palombo,who is working with Dr. Levine on the project. “Later, some of these individuals will be contacted to return for a brain imaging study, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). This will help us understand what areas of the brain are involved in this memory capacity.”

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