Episodic memory decay along the adult lifespan: a review of behavioral and neurophysiological evidence

Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Jan;71(1):64-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.07.005. Epub 2008 Jul 23.


The ability to learn and remember new information declines along life. Empirical evidence reveals that this deficit occurs unevenly with different types of memory. Episodic memory, which is referred to as the ability to remember our own experiences in a determined temporal and spatial context, is especially vulnerable to aging. Episodic information can be retrieved with or without the context information that took place when the episodic event was encoded. There is agreement that, with advancing age, the source information related to an episodic event is more susceptible to be forgotten than the event; however, there is no consensus regarding the age at which this decline begins, the speed of source-memory decline along life or the possible changes, due to aging, in neurophysiological activity during encoding of source information that is subsequently correctly retrieved. In an attempt to answer the first two issues, a behavioral study with 552 subjects from 20 to 80 years of age was conducted, which provided evidence of the exact age at which source memory starts to decline and of the speed of this memory loss along life. To address the last question, event-related potentials were recorded while young and old adults encoded source information, to investigate whether older adults generate memory traces different from young adults during encoding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*