Prospective memory functioning in older adults




Friesen, Ingrid Colleen

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Research examining prospective memory and aging has grown enormously in last decade but many unanswered questions remain. Prospective memory refers to remembering what one intends to do and it can be contrasted to retrospective memory which refers to what one has done. Prospective memory has been studied as part of traditional memory systems but recent research suggests that it may be better understood as an executive function. Three studies were carried out to examine prospective memory in older adults while addressing the weaknesses of the previous research. In Study I, prospective memory tests and a battery of neuropsychological measures were administered to 129 healthy young-old and old-old adults. Study II examined the utility of the Prospective Memory Screening Questionnaire (PROMSQ) in a group of over 500 older adults, some of whom exhibited mild cognitive decline. A subset of this group also received a comprehensive neuropsychological battery. Study III included 80 healthy young-old and old-old adults. Along with a battery of neuropsychological measures, they were administered the Prospective Memory Test (PMT), a more comprehensive measure of prospective memory compared with the tasks administered in Study I. The analyses of Study I revealed age differences in favour of the younger adults on the event-based prospective memory tasks. Participants also remembered more information relating to the prospective memory component of the tasks than the retrospective memory component. In this study, measures of executive functioning accounted for more of the variance of the prospective memory tasks than the other cognitive functions, including retrospective memory. In Study III no age differences were observed for either time- or event-based prospective memory tasks. Performance on the PMT also was accounted for by measures of attention and executive functioning rather than the retrospective memory. A comprehensive error analysis on the PMT was also conducted. The results of Study II suggested that the PROMSQ may not be a good measure of self-reported prospective memory in older adults as the internal consistency of the measure was poor. Discussion focuses on the theoretical and practical implications of the results of the series of three studies. Possible reasons for the conflicting age results from previous research is addressed and related to the present findings. Finally, the strengths and weaknesses of the present series of studies the present series of studies discussed, as well as directions for future research.



Memory, Recollection (Psychology), Age factors