Researchers at Vanderbilt University in the United States suggest that younger people have better memories than the elderly as they have the ability to retrieve memories in higher definition.
The researchers recruited around 11 elderly adults with an average age of 67 years and 13 younger adults with an average age of 23 years and asked them to go through a task called 'visual change detection' which involved looking at two, three or four colored dots and memorizing their appearance. The dots were then replaced by a single dot that was of the same color as the previous one or had a new color.
The participants had to whether the color was the same or different with the accuracy of their response, known as behavioral measure, decided how well they had memorized the colors. The researchers also collected electroencephalographic data of the participants to calculate the neural measure of their memory capacity as they performed the task. The researchers found that while the neural measure was similar for both the age groups, behavioral measures pointed towards a lower mental capacity among the elderly. The researchers concluded that this was because the older generation stored their memories in a lower resolution compared to younger adults. The study has been published in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics
"We don't know why older adults perform poorly when their neural activity suggests their memory capacity is intact, but we have two leads. First, further analysis of this current dataset and other studies from our laboratory suggest that older adults retrieve memories differently than younger adults. Second, there is emerging evidence from other labs suggesting that the quality of older adults' memories is poorer than younger adults. In other words, while older adults might store the same number of items, their memory of each item is 'fuzzier' than that of younger adults", lead researcher Philip Ko said.