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

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Business / Operations Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well-established and growi...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive - Major Sporting Venue

£29500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Old London Bridge; how to fight UKIP; and wolves

John Rentoul
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible