Explicit and Implicit Memory Loss in Aging

  •  Richard E. Hicks    
  •  Victoria E. Alexander    
  •  Mark Bahr    


How our memory is affected as we age has been given considerable attention over recent decades as we strive to understand the cognitive processes involved. Memory types have been identified as either explicit (declarative - related to episodes or semantics) or implicit (non-declarative – related to procedures, habits, or earlier priming). Studies have identified likely age-related decline in explicit but not implicit memory though there are opposing results suggested from other studies. It is thought cognitive reserve capacities might explain any non-decline as aging individuals use alternative or additional pathways to ‘remember’. This theory might be supported indirectly if older members remember material accurately but take longer to supply answers. In our current study we re-examined whether age-related differences in accuracy and speed of access in memory are present in both implicit and explicit memory processes and we increased the number of experimental age groups (from 2 to 3) - most previous studies have compared just two groups (young, and old). With three groups (young, middle-old, and older aged groups) we can identify trends across the age range towards deterioration or preservation of memory. We examined sixty-six participants (49 females; 17 males) aged 18 to 86 years (M = 50.27, SD = 21.06) from South-Eastern Queensland and divided these into younger (18 to 46 years of age), middle old (50 to 64) and older aged (65+) cohorts. Participants were administered tasks assessing implicit and explicit memory using computer presentations. Consistent with most prior research, no age differences were identified on accuracy in the implicit memory tasks (verbal and non-verbal, including priming), suggesting that memory for implicit material remains preserved. However, on the explicit memory tasks, older adults performed less accurately than the younger adults, indicative of decline in explicit memory as we age. The finding of a decline in explicit memory but no significant decline in implicit memory confirms most earlier research and is consistent with a view of modular decline rather than overall decline in memory with increasing age. In addition, differences found in speed of response in otherwise accurate implicit memory with older respondents significantly slower, suggests possible support for the cognitive reserve hypothesis. 

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