Although not everyone suffers from it, worsening memory and other types of cognitive decline are common consequences of aging, especially when it is pathological.
In this article we will describe eight types of strategies against memory loss that can be very useful to compensate for the typical deterioration of old age. We will divide them into three categories: external aids, internal strategies and environmental adaptations.
The decline of memory in old age
Scientific research suggests that we tend to overestimate the intensity of memory decline in old age, although some abilities are clearly affected. This is particularly true for people with cognitive impairment, whether or not it is in the context of dementia.
According to studies, with aging, sensory memory suffers a slight deterioration that is not of great importance in practice. The working or operational memory is significantly affected , especially after 70 years of age; the deterioration in this type of memory is probably the most significant of all.
With regard to long-term memory, deficits appear more often in declarative memory than in procedural memory, so that the skills are usually maintained. Recent episodic memory, which includes autobiographical memories of recent years, is more sensitive to impairment than semantics (knowledge of facts).
These deteriorations have been mainly attributed to three reasons: the appearance of deficits in the codification of complex information , which makes memorization difficult, the worsening of the capacity to recover memories and the lesser sensation of control in cognitive tasks, which diminishes the expectations of efficiency of many older people.
The memory losses that occur in old age can be compensated for by using cognitive, behavioral and environmental strategies. In cases where the mental impairment is slight, these techniques are usually sufficient to cancel out its effects; if the situation is more serious, they can at least reduce the problems to a significant degree.
Strategies against memory loss based on external aids
The use of external memory aids is the most important strategy to compensate for memory loss that occurs at advanced ages. Many people resort to these methods spontaneously.
1. External recovery
External recovery strategies include taking notes in a notebook or diary, asking someone close to you to remind you of something, or using digital devices (e.g., setting an alarm with text) to make it easier to remember specific information. Recent technological advances have increased the usefulness and diversity of these strategies.
2. Internal recovery
Unlike external retrieval strategies, in these cases a signal is used that something needs to be remembered, but it is not specified what ; changing a finger ring or making a small mark on the hand with a pen are two common external retrieval techniques.
Internal or psychological strategies
Internal strategies to combat memory problems are based on the management of cognitions. They are considered the most specific intervention of Psychology in this field and are frequently included in training programs for older people with mental deficits.
1. Naturally learned
This subcategory includes all the cognitive strategies that people have naturally; they are part of the normal functioning of the memory and do not require previous training.
2. Mnemonic rules
Mnemonic rules are artificial cognitive methods used to favour learning , organisation and information recall. Some of the best known mnemonic strategies include the loci (or place) method, the hanger method, the linkage method and the rhyme method, which are based on words and/or mental images.
Environmental adaptations and indications
These strategies consist of facilitating the orientation and the feeling of familiarity with the physical environment of people in a given place. In this sense we can talk about both the home itself and a wider context, for example a residence for elderly people and even a town.
Distant environmental cues are a type of adaptation that refers to the acclimatization of cities, streets or buildings to help people with memory problems find their way around. In this set of aids we find the indications on the doors about how to open them, the uniforms of the hospital staff, etc.
Proximal aids are those that are framed in a more restricted environment, such as a room or a small flat. They are based on the principle that the structure and stability of the near environment of people with mnemonic difficulties make it easier for them to orient themselves and reduce the probability of them having losses.
Personal environmental cues can be considered a type of external help, and therefore can depend on internal or external recovery; this means that they can be explicit, like leaving a note in a notebook, or simply function as signs that something concrete needs to be remembered.
4. Reality Orientation Therapy
Reality Oriented Therapy was created by James Folsom in the 1950s. This psychological program focuses on teaching skills that enable the patient to maintain personal, spatial and temporal orientation . Among the strategies included are external visual aids, sensory stimulation and verbal repetition.