It's not about a bad memory - old people just know too much

A new scientific review has concluded that the reason older people take longer to recall facts is because they're suffering from information overload

Share

The modern world is often a baffling place for those of us of a certain age, but more of that later. First, I'd like to bring some reassurance to anyone who's had a conversation with someone on the street without recalling who they are, or who's thought they had lost their glasses only to find them perched on their head, or who's incapable of leaving the house without thinking they'd forgotten to lock up, or who finds it hard to remember a whole range of details, such as names, addresses, birthdays, anniversaries, and sometimes even where they're meant to be going.

The big news is that it's not because the depredations of old age have withered our brains. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's because we're just too clever. A new scientific review has concluded that the reason older people take longer to recall facts is because they're suffering from information overload. This makes total sense, even to a scientific ignoramus like me. The brain surely has a finite capacity. The older you get, the more “stuff” is housed there. And there must come a point when you just can't load anything more on to it. It's just like computers. Disc full, is the message coming from our brains.

That's what a group of German scientists concluded after, in fact, a series of experiments using a computer. Day by day, the computer was given a certain amount of matter to “read” and digest, in the manner, I suppose, that we go through life. Over time, the computer was found to be slower in processing information, not because its performance had declined, but the database had grown to such an extent that it simply took more time to sort through the data. “The human brain works slower in old age,” said Dr Michael Ramscar, who led the study. “The brains of older people do not get weak,” he added. “They simply know more.”

This, I am sure, comes as a great relief to a considerable number of readers. So when you forget who is the latest James Bond, it's only because you've got a dozen or so on your mental database, and it's difficult to remember which was the one in the swimming trunks and which was the one with the eyebrows.

But whatever the condition of our mature brains, we are still capable of being puzzled by certain aspects of 21st Century life. Can you answer me this? Why is it that when you are notified that one of your apps needs updating to fix the bugs, you download it and it turns out to be worse than it was previously? And why is it that train companies have quiet carriages where passengers are not supposed to use mobile phones and will not have carriages where people are not allowed to eat? I cannot be alone in finding the smell, never mind the noise, of fellow passengers boarding with a bag of fast food revolting. I'd much rather listen to a middle manager barking “touch base” down his mobile phone than someone eating a horrible, greasy, unhealthy, acrid-smelling burger. That's the other thing about getting old: it makes you more intolerant.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution