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Chapter Twenty-Four. Late Adulthood: Cognitive Development. PowerPoints prepared by Cathie Robertson, Grossmont College Revised by Jenni Fauchier, Metropolitan Community College. Changes in Information Processing. Schaie’s study found decline in all 5 primary mental abilities

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Chapter Twenty-Four

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chapter twenty four

Chapter Twenty-Four

Late Adulthood:

Cognitive Development

PowerPoints prepared by Cathie Robertson, Grossmont College

Revised by Jenni Fauchier, Metropolitan Community College

changes in information processing
Changes in Information Processing

Schaie’s study found decline in all 5 primary mental abilities

verbal meaning

spatial orientation

inductive reasoning

number ability

word fluency

input sensing and perceiving
Input: Sensing and Perceiving
  • With age it takes longer for information to register in sensory register—holds incoming sensory information for a split second after it is received
    • small reductions in sensitivity and power
      • sensory receptors (eyes, ears, etc.) now less acute
  • deficits can be compensated for if person is aware of reduction
input sensing and perceiving cont
Input: Sensing and Perceiving, cont.
  • However, for information to reach perception, must cross sensory threshold
    • senses must pick up relevant sensations
    • this is where significant decline occurs
  • problem becomes serious because it is insidious
    • person is unaware of things not seen or heard
    • after time may miss substantial amount of information
working memory
Working Memory
  • Working, or Short-Term Memory
    • processing component through which current, conscious mental activity occurs
  • Two Interrelated Functions
    • serves as temporary information storage
    • processes information held in mind
working memory cont
Working Memory, cont.
  • Older adults: smaller working memory capacity than younger adults
    • multitasking especially difficult; focusing helps to compensate
  • Explanations for Decline
    • inability to screen out distractions and inhibit irrelevant thoughts
    • decline in total mental energy
long term memory
Long-Term Memory
  • Knowledge Base
    • long-term storehouse of information and memories
    • evidence suggests memory for vocabulary remains unimpaired and can increase with age
    • areas of expertise relatively unimpaired
  • Source amnesia—forgetting who or what was source of fact, idea, or conversation
    • increasingly common in late adulthood
control processes
Control Processes
  • Part of the information-processing system that regulates analysis and flow of information
    • e.g., selective attention, retrieval strategies, storage mechanisms, logical analysis
  • Older adults unable to gather and consider all data relevant to logical analysis and decision making
    • rather, they rely on prior knowledge, rule-of-thumb, general principles
control processes cont
Control Processes, cont.
  • Use of retrieval strategies also declines with age
    • possible to learn better retrieval strategies, but does not overcome age-related problems in memory and control
explicit and implicit memory
Explicit and Implicit Memory

Explicit memory—involves facts, definitions, data, concepts, etc.

learned consciously through deliberate repetition and review

because of rehearsal, usually easily retrieved

Implicit memory—information that is an unconscious or automatic memory such as habits, emotional responses, routines

contents not deliberately memorized


Rather than direct result of aging, decline may be result of

refusal to guess

deliberate choice

resistance to change

reluctance to use memory aids

reasons for age related changes
Reasons for Age-Related Changes

Causes of declines in cognitive functioning

primary aging

secondary aging


either reflected in self-perception

or embedded in way scientists measure cognition

primary aging
Primary Aging
  • Brain Slowdown
    • reduced production of neurotransmitters that allow nerve impulses to jump across synapse from one neuron to another
    • decrease in total volume of neural fluid
    • decrease in speed of cerebral blood flow
    • slower pace of activation of various parts of cortex
  • Slowdown may affect learning new material, but the types of thinking not involving speed are less affected
  • Strategies of Older Adults
    • employ memory tricks
    • use written reminders
    • allow for more time to solve problems
    • repeat confusing instructions
  • Older adults slower but not less accurate than younger adults
terminal decline
Terminal Decline
  • Overall slowdown of cognitive abilities in days or months before death
    • marked loss of intellectual power
    • results not from age—rather from being close to death
  • Change in cognitive ability and increased depression often precede visible worsening of health
secondary aging
Secondary Aging

Several diseases impair cognition among aging

dementia, hypertension, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and diseases affecting lungs

Lifestyle habits contribute to these diseases

poor eating, smoking, lack of exercise

secondary aging cont
Secondary Aging, cont.

Brain deterioration due to poor lifestyle habits can be halted by

improved nutrition and exercise

various drugs, e.g., long-term use of anti-inflammatory steroids

aspirin and ibuprofen

attitudes of the elderly
Attitudes of the Elderly
  • Influence of Expectations and Stereotyping
    • people aged 50–70 overestimate their early adulthood memory skills, which can lead to loss of confidence that impairs present memory
    • confidence in memory skills also eroded when others interpret hesitancy as sign of impaired memory
ageism in research
Ageism in Research
  • Laboratory research may favor younger adults, rather than older because
    • older adults at intellectual best early in day at home
  • Experiments on memory biased toward people used to being tested
    • in school setting, young adults regularly memorize information not immediately relevant to daily life
    • older adults unpracticed at, and may be suspicious of, exams
beyond ageism
Beyond Ageism
  • Laboratory research on memory
    • uniformly reports some memory loss in late adulthood
    • but few older adults consider memory loss significant handicap
      • Compensate by using reminders
      • the more realistic the circumstances, the better older people remember
      • supportive environments aid memory
  • Dementia—irreversible loss of intellectual functioning caused by organic brain disease
  • Symptoms
    • confusion and forgetfulness
  • More common with age
  • More than 70 diseases can cause dementia
  • Difficult to diagnose
alzheimer s disease
Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Disorder characterized by proliferation of plaques and tangles
    • abnormalities in cerebral cortex that destroy brain functioning
      • Plagues formed from protein called B-amyloid
      • Tangles are twisted mass of protein threads within cells
risk factors for alzheimer s
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s
  • Gender, ethnicity, and especially age affect odds of developing it
    • women at greater risk than men
    • more common in North America and Europe than in Japan and China
    • less common among Asian Americans than European Americans
risk factors for alzheimer s cont
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s, cont.
  • Age is chief risk factor
    • incidence rises from about 1 in 100 at age 65 to 1 in 5 over age 85
  • Alzheimer’s is partly genetic
    • ALZHS—variant of the ApoE gene (allele 4)—increases risk
      • in United States, 20 percent inherit ApoE4 from one parent; thus, have a 50/50 chance of developing disease by age 80
risk factors for alzheimer s cont1
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s, cont.
  • Factors decreasing risk
    • allele ApoE2 dissipates protein that causes plaques
    • lifestyle habits (e.g. physical exercise and mental activity) said to be protective
stages from confusion to death
Stages: From Confusion to Death
  • Stage 1
    • general forgetfulness
  • Stage 2
    • more general confusion
    • noticeable differences in concentration and short-term memory
    • speech can be aimless or repetitive
stages from confusion to death cont
Stages: From Confusion to Death, cont.
  • Stage 3
    • memory loss becomes truly dangerous
    • no longer able to take care of own basic needs
  • Stage 4
    • need for full-time care as cannot care for self or respond normally
    • occasionally irrationally angry or paranoid
stages from confusion to death cont1
Stages: From Confusion to Death, cont.
  • Stage 5
    • completely mute
    • unable to respond with any action or emotion
    • death usually occurs 10 to 15 years after onset
many strokes
Many Strokes
  • Vascular Dementia or Multi-Infarct Dementia
    • characterized by sporadic, progressive, loss of intellectual functioning
    • temporary obstruction of blood vessels prevent sufficient supply of blood to brain; commonly called a stroke, or ministroke
    • common cause is arteriosclerosis
    • different progression than that of Alzheimer’s
subcortical dementias
Subcortical Dementias
  • Begin with motor ability impairments and later produce cognitive impairment
  • Parkinson’s disease most common
    • degeneration of neurons in area of brain that produces dopamine, neurotransmitter essential to normal brain functioning
      • majority of newly diagnosed over 60
subcortical dementias cont
Subcortical Dementias, cont.
  • Other Dementias
    • Huntington’s disease
    • multiple schlerosis
  • Toxins and infectious agents can cause dementia
    • syphilis
    • AIDS
    • psychoactive drugs
reversible dementia
Reversible Dementia
  • From Overmedication
    • drug management difficult for older adults living at home who typically consume 5 or more different drugs a day
  • From Undernourishment
    • can cause vitamin deficiencies which lead to
      • depression
      • confusion
      • cognitive decline
psychological illness
Psychological Illness
  • Anxiety, antisocial personality and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, depression
    • less common among the elderly
      • higher mortality rates for people with those illnesses
      • illnesses themselves become less severe in later life
  • Mental illness can produce what seems like dementia but is not
    • e.g., depression, anxiety
    • careful diagnosis can differentiate
new cognitive development in later life
New Cognitive Development in Later Life

Theorists believe older adults can develop

new interests

patterns of thought

deeper wisdom

Aesthetic Sense and Creativity

many older people gain appreciation of nature and of aesthetic experience

as for people already creative, they generally continue to be productive; often experiencing renewed inspiration

the life review
The Life Review
  • Many older people do a life review—the examination of one’s own past life
    • helps older people connect their own lives with the future as they tell their stories to younger generations
    • renews links with past generations, as older people remember ancestors
    • process is more social than solitary
    • crucial to self-worth that others recognize its significance
  • Are older people typically wiser?
  • But first, what is wisdom?
    • broad, practical, comprehensive approach to life’s problems, reflecting timeless truths
    • expertise in life fundamentals, permitting exceptional insight and judgment in complex and uncertain matters
  • Research found little correlation between wisdom and age, although attributes like humor, perspective, altruism may increase