Selective decline in memory function among healthy elderly

Neurology. 1999 Apr 22;52(7):1392-6. doi: 10.1212/wnl.52.7.1392.


Objective: To use longitudinally acquired data to establish whether aging is associated with memory decline.

Background: Memory loss is one of the most frequent complaints among the elderly. Nevertheless, age-related memory decline remains controversial in large part because it has been established with cross-sectional studies.

Methods: A total of 212 community-based healthy people were followed prospectively and evaluated annually with a neuropsychological battery testing memory and other cognitive domains. To control for the learning effect-the improvement in test performance associated with repeated exposure-longitudinal performance was compared between two age groups.

Results: The older age group displayed a relative decline in memory performance with time. In contrast to memory, a relative age-related decline was not observed in tests of language, visuospatial ability, and abstract reasoning. Furthermore, within the memory domain, age-related decline was restricted to a specific aspect of memory, manifesting only in a measure sensitive to the acquisition and early retrieval of new information, and not in a measure of memory retention. This profile of age-related cognitive decline anatomically localizes to the hippocampal formation.

Conclusion: This study establishes age-related memory decline using longitudinal data, and shows that this decline does not occur diffusely across multiple cognitive domains. Both early AD as well as non-AD processes likely contribute to age-related memory decline, and continued follow-up may reveal distinguishing features between these two.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reference Values
  • Task Performance and Analysis