At least, this is what New York Times health and medical science editor Barbara Strauch posited to Terry Gross in a recent interview with the NPR Fresh Air radio host. In the interview, Strauch explains that although aging does bring about a decline in short-term memory (names are often the first to go), our brains actually improve in a variety of areas.
Strauch attributes her findings in part to a Penn State University longitudinal study that began in 1956, which has been tracking the mental fitness of 6000 people over a 40-year period. One of the most surprising results of the study was that people who were tested in six cognitive categories in their twenties actually did better in four of the categories when re-tested in their forties through sixties; these categories where improvement occurred included vocabulary, verbal memory, spatial orientation, and inductive reasoning.
In 2008, Gross touched upon a similar topic with author and former New York Times writer Martha Weinman Lear, who also laments the bane of memory-loss with aging: “What the hell is his name?” she exasperatedly asks in an excerpt from her book, Where Did I Leave My Glasses? Interestingly enough, Weinman also mentions that when it comes to memory, we remember the image of a person long after we have forgotten their name. “Most of us retain good visual memory long after our verbal memory has started going a little flabby,” she quips in her book. “Which is to say, you are likely to remember what Whatsisname looks like long after you have forgotten his name.”
Once you remember where you put your keys, you can check out more of Gross’s interview with Strauch and Weinman below:
Image courtesy of flickr member rooneg