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Verbal Memory Preserved in Healthy Aging, Study Finds

April 9, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Old age may make it harder to remember where you put your keys, but a study suggests that recall for such facts as names and stories does not decline in healthy and well-educated elderly men.

″It is a very optimistic finding,″ said Dr. Elisabeth Koss of the National Institute on Aging.

Koss, who studied memory in 60 healthy and college-educated men ages 25 to 85, found that older men scored as well in tests of verbal memory as the younger ones.

That kind of memory includes recalling names, stories and the previous day’s events, comprehending and defining words and speaking eloquently, she told a news conference Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Previous studies had found declines in such abilities as recalling stories and names, but they did not account for effects of disease or educational levels, she said.

Her study did find age-related declines in ″visuospatial″ memory and performance, which includes factors like where a person put his keys, she said.

The declines were not severe enough to interfere with daily occupational or social activities, said R.P. Friedland, a co-author of the study. He also stressed the declines were fundamentally different from the impediments of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

″While the older person may forget where he put his keys ... the person with dementia will be the one who forgets he has keys,″ Friedland said.

Of the 60 volunteers in the study, 18 were younger than age 34, 16 were between the ages of 36 and 54, 14 were between the ages of 54 and 69, and 12 were 70 or older. None had a psychological or medical condition that might interfere with intellectual functioning, the researchers wrote.

Verbal memory was checked through such tests as telling the person a story and then asking him to repeat it with as much detail as possible, both right away and after about 20 minutes.

In another test, each was told a list of 10 words and asked to repeat it. Most people cannot recall all 10, so the forgotten words are then reviewed, and the person asked again to repeat the entire list. The exercise tests short-term and long-term verbal memory, Koss said.

One visuospatial test included asking each person to arrange a series of pictures in logical order. Koss said her results showed no age-related decline in this ability until age 70.

Another test showed age-related declines that began even with the youngest men in the study, she said. In that exercise, the men were given a list of numbers paired with symbols, then a series of numbers. They had to fill in the corresponding symbol for each number, while being allowed to look back to the reference list.

The test is more one of speed than memory, Koss said.

Koss said she plans to do a memory study of elderly women.

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