Do Older and Younger Adults Use and Benefit from Memory Aids?
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This research examines age differences in the use and value of memory compensation strategies for everyday memory tasks. Chapter 1 reviews the literature on memory compensation and aging. According to Selective Optimization with Compensation (SOC) model, older adults may be more likely than younger adults to take advantage of memory compensation strategies when they are available. Chapter 2 describes a diary study in which older and younger participants rated the extent to which they use compensation strategies in everyday life and reported everyday memory errors over the course of a week. Older adults reported fewer memory errors than younger adults and more use of memory aids. However, use of memory aids was unrelated to frequency of memory errors in either age group. Chapter 3 reports a laboratory experiment on the use of memory aids for recalling phone messages. Participants listened to phone messages while simultaneously completing a seating chart, and were asked to report the content of the messages to the experimenter. Participants were either allowed to use a memory aid for the phone message task, or not. Older participants reported using compensation strategies more frequently in everyday life, but they were no more likely than younger participants to search for or employ an aid in the phone message task. Using a memory aid was differentially beneficial, improving performance more for older than younger participants. In Chapter 4, participants completed two phone message recall and two seating plan tasks. Participants were encouraged to use whatever in the room that they might find helpful. On one round of tasks a pen was tied to a clipboard and participants could use it to write down the phone messages. On the other round no pen was available. The order of the trials was counterbalanced across participants. This design examined the calibration between participants’ use of memory aids and their performance on the recall task – whether participants’ performance on the first trial predicted their subsequent use of memory aids, and whether participants who chose to use a memory aid when it was available on the first trial performed particularly poorly on the second trial when no aid was present. As in Study 1, older adults reported using memory aids more frequently in everyday life but age was unassociated with whether or not participants used the pen when one was available. There was little evidence of calibration. Participants’ memory performance on an initial trial had little impact on their use of a memory aid on a subsequent trial. Participants who used a memory aid on the first trial actually recalled more phone message details on the second trial (without the aid) than those who did not. This was true for both age groups. Chapter 5 reflects on older and younger adults self-reported and observed uses of memory compensation strategies. Across all 3 studies older adults reported using external memory aids more frequently in everyday life. However, contrary to the SOC model, in Studies 2 and 3 there were no age differences in older and younger adults’ use of a pen to write down phone messages on the lab task. Nor was participants’ choice to use the memory aid associated with their unaided performance on the task. These results do not support the prediction derived from SOC that older adults use compensation strategies more frequently or more sensitively than younger adults. However, using the memory did improve performance on the task more for older than for younger adults. These results support the hypothesis that external memory aids are a particularly valuable strategy for older adults and suggest the need to better understand why some individuals engage in compensation use and others do not.