Research has shown that the ability to retrieve details of an event and the phenomenological experience of recollection decline as people get older, whereas familiarity remains relatively the same regardless of age. Studies have also shown that the structural integrity of the hippocampus declines with increased age, whereas the entorhinal cortex showed minimal changes in volume. In other words, areas of the brain such as the hippocampus that are important for recollection tend to decline in volume, whereas the areas that support familiarity remain more intact as people get older.
Scientists also know that memory does not work as a flawless tape-recorder: it is often the case that we not only forget information, but also misremember it, even if we feel as if we recollect an experience vividly and accurately. That older adults are increasingly unable to retrieve specific details of an event means they could be more susceptible to experiencing false memory.
How to stop memories from slipping
So what can be done to deter or reverse these changes in older age? While there is no magical pill or super food that can protect us, research suggests a number of strategies that can help ameliorate some of the more difficult impacts of ageing on our memories.
One popular suggested solution is to do as many crosswords and sudoku puzzles as possible. It is a perfectly intuitive idea: if we think of the brain like a muscle, then we should exercise that muscle as much as possible to keep it sharp and fit. Yet, so far there is scant evidence to support this belief.