Sometimes we get concerned about our memory not being as sharp as it used to be. Maybe it’s a person’s name that we can’t recall. Or an errand we intended to run that slipped our mind. We’ve heard that people lose their memory with age and worry about it happening to us. Well I’m here to tell you that your memory was a problem a long time ago. It has never been as perfect as you think.
Dr. Elizabeth Loftus is a psychological researcher who studies memory. She demonstrated how faulty our memory is in a segment of the program “Brain Games” where 12 people witnessed a crime in a New York City park. Afterward, they were brought to a courtroom where Loftus asked them to describe what happened. She got widely varying accounts of the incident.
Some said three people were involved, others said four. A few said the woman in the scene was wearing a red coat, others said it was white. When Loftus then showed them a video of the incident—including the woman who was wearing a gray coat—the witnesses were shocked at how many details they got wrong.
Hundreds of cases of wrongful conviction have resulted in people spending years in prison for crimes they did not commit, and a major cause is faulty memory. Many things we see or hear are lost in about 20 seconds. And over time, memories can become more and more distorted. No one is immune to an unreliable memory.
So whatever your age, relax. Thankfully, our memory can be strengthened. There are exercises, training, puzzles, and other tools to try. There are also habits you can adopt. When it’s important to remember something, jot down a note. Set an alarm on your smartphone. Ask someone to remind you. Avoid distractions and focus while repeating the information out loud. Create routines.
You don’t have to get anxious about your memory not being reliable as you age. It never has been.