A new study has said that if you worrying about losing your memory in old age, you can be sure you will!
The study found that senior citizens who think older people should perform poorly on tests of memory actually score much worse than seniors who don't buy in to negative stereotypes about aging and memory loss.
Lead author Dr. Tom Hess and his colleagues from North Carolina State University have shown that older adults' ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are 'activated' in a given situation.
"For example, older adults will perform more poorly on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that particular type of memory test," Hess said.
Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being "stigmatized," meaning that others are looking down on them because of their age.
"Such situations may be a 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," Hess said.
However, Hess added: "The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory performance."
In other words, if you are confident that aging will not ravage your memory, you are more likely to perform well on memory-related tasks.
The study also found a couple of factors that influenced the extent to which negative stereotypes influence older adults.
For example, the researchers found that adults between the ages of 60 and 70 suffered more when these negative stereotypes were activated than seniors who were between the ages of 71 and 82. However, the 71-82 age group performed worse when they felt stigmatized.
Finally, the study found that negative effects were strongest for those older adults with the highest levels of education
"We interpret this as being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the problems associated with the stereotype," Hess said.
"The take-home message is that social factors may have a negative effect on older adults' memory performance," he added.
The study was published online April 1 by Experimental Aging Research.