Overview

As the world’s population ages and as the Baby Boomer generation in the United States is entering retirement age, a pressing concern for public policy as well as individuals is enhancing the quality of life of older adults and creating conditions that allow maintenance of independence well into old age. In addition to physical health factors, access to medical care, transportation, and basic support systems, maintaining intact cognitive functions is critical for conducting a healthy and fulfilling life. Cognitive function is essential for supporting everyday behaviors, such as remembering to take medications, being able to drive, enjoying a good book, and many other aspects of our daily lives we sometimes take for granted.

As we age, certain aspects of cognition undergo systematic changes. For example, much like physical processes, cognitive processes tend to become slower (Salthouse, 1991), thus requiring additional time or effort to process information. There are also changes in the ability to attend to important information and, perhaps more importantly, in the ability to ignore or suppress irrelevant information (Hasher et al., 2001), both factors which can affect one’s ability to remember or learn. A particular complaint of many older adults is an increased difficulty in remembering specific units of information – in other words, they might remember the gist of an event or story, but have some problems with some details. Perhaps the most common complaint for many older adults, however, is how to remember people’s names. In essence, older adults tend to perform worse than young adults on tasks that tap into episodic memory, or memory for specific events, and in particular, when such memories require binding different elements together (e.g., a face and a name, who said what to whom; Naveh-Benjamin, 2000). Conversely, other abilities, such as language or general knowledge, supported by semantic memory, generally improve or remain constant in aging. Of particular interest to us is exploring the interplay between episodic and semantic memory across the lifespan, given the underlying differences between young and older adults in tasks that tap into these processes.

In the Memory and Language Lab, we explore issues pertaining to healthy aging in two manners:

1. We conduct basic research on how memory and language processes change as we age. Such studies contribute critically to building a larger body of knowledge that help researchers and practitioners understand healthy aging more in depth. This knowledge, in turn, might some day contribute to additional tools for the diagnosis and treatment of age-related cognitive disorders, as well as contributing to our understanding of how older adults process information and what influences their memory for certain types of content.

2. We are actively committed to providing access to the broader community to knowledge and scientifically validated evidence about healthy aging and lifestyle changes or choices that can promote positive outcomes. To this end, we host free and open to the public presentations on a variety of topics related to memory and aging (more information is available by clicking here).