Of all mental faculties, memory is unique. It defines who we are and places our lives on a narrative continuum from birth to death. It helps to structure our days, it guides our daily tasks and goals, and it provides pleasurable interludes as we anticipate the future and recall the past. As a core, defining feature of the self (Birren & Schroots, 2006), memory takes on heightened meaning as we age. In the face of other losses that accumulate with age, memory can serve to preserve our sense of self and place in time. In normal aging, memory loss is minor and relatively inconsequential to functional well-being, other than passing annoyance at not being able to retrieve a name or a location from time to time. In non-normal or pathological aging, as characterized by Alzheimer's disease (AD), the loss of memory is severe and debilitating. In addition to functional disability, people with AD ultimately lose their sense of self. Connections to the past, to current events and relationships, and to what the future holds fade and ultimately disappear. Such a bleak fate for "the self" continues to spur researchers to look for causes and cures for normal and pathological memory failure. Current cutting-edge research examines the transition from normal to pathological memory aging, with particular emphasis on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as a transitional phase and as an independent risk factor for AD. Concurrent efforts have focused on developing effective intervention and treatment programs aimed at biological, psychosocial, and cognitive levels. This chapter highlights current research on normative memory change with age, with a focus on self-regulation, self efficacy, and memory maintenance and maximization. We also look at the special contexts of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease, and close with an eye toward future directions in theory, research, and intervention.
Copyright © 2009 Praegar Publishing. This chapter first appeared in Aging in America, Volume 1, Psychological Aspects of Aging .
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Hastings, Erin, Jane M. Berry, Robin West, Courtney Lee, and John C. Cavanaugh. Aging in America, Volume 1, Psychological Aspects of Aging. Edited by John C. Cavanaugh and Christine K. Vavanaugh. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2010. 255-299.