Preventing Self Inflicted Memory Loss

MemoryLossPrevent 400For years, I have been speaking and writing about the negative impact of aging stereotypes and the damage they do if they become self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, if you believe old people all lose their memories, become less productive and dependent, you could be condemning yourself to that future. That’s correct! Memory loss, could to some degree, be self-inflicted.

The good news is that recent research has finally documented that positive stereotype reinforcement may be just as powerful as negative stereotypes. In a study published in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Indiana University psychologists found that…

The study shows that merely reminding people that they are members of a stigmatized group (in this case, older Americans) reliably dampens their performance. Similar people not reminded of their status did significantly better on the tests given for the study. In this case, that means that the aged are likely to have better-functioning memories when they are told, for instance, that older people "have more experience" or "have seen it all before….The power of stereotype is so strong that it can overwhelm many of our other traits, which means that what you learned in kindergarten is true: you're only as good as you expect to be.

How Stereotypes Defeat the Stereotyped

While current ‘facts’ indicate that as you age, you will begin to lose your capacity for working memory, just as you will lose muscle mass, eye strength and balance. However, recent research also documents that much of this decline can be minimized by adopting a more prevention oriented lifestyle that includes diet and fitness for the mind and body.

How you “feel” about getting old may have a greater impact on your health and well-being than having low blood pressure or high cholesterol according to a group of Yale University researchers led by psychologist Becca Levy, PhD.

The effect of more positive self-perceptions of aging on survival is greater than the physiological measures of low systolic blood pressure and cholesterol, each of which is associated with a longer lifespan of four years or less… It is also greater than the independent contributions of lower body mass index, no history of smoking, and a tendency to exercise, each of these factors has been found to contribute between one and three years of added life. (Reuters Limited, National Institute on Aging Study, 2003)

We now have valid research documenting what most of those subscribing to positive/successful/active aging already knew, “People can be persuaded to believe either positive or negative stereotypes, and it can have a real impact on their performance in life.”

To paraphrase the author of the research, you can apply this to your own older relatives and friends every day. Never miss an opportunity when someone says they had a ‘senior moment’ to point out that he/she's always the one who remembers the grandkids' birthdays or who recalls all the measurements in family recipes. Maybe little compliments will help them battle the years of negative stereotyping to which they have been subjected.