Psychological changes occurring in old age

During old age changes take place in most functions and psychological processes. However, in general we can say that these changes are not produced in an equivalent way in all people, but are influenced by factors such as physical health, genetics or the level of intellectual and social activity.

We will focus on the analysis of the development during the third age of four of the most studied psychological aspects in this field: attentional capacities, the different components of memory, intelligence (both fluid and crystallized) and creativity.

1. Atention
Although a decline in the functioning of attentional processes over the course of old age has been clearly identified, these changes do not occur equally in all types of care. To understand the deterioration proper to this vital stage, it is necessary to describe what sustained, divided and selective attention is.

We speak of sustained attention when a task requires that we maintain the fixed attentional focus in the same stimulus for a relatively prolonged period of time. Older people are less precise at the start of the tasks, but their success rate is not reduced more than that of young people as time passes.

On the other hand, it is much more marked the deterioration of divided attention, consisting in alternating the attentional focus between different stimulus sources or tasks. The degree of effectiveness is lower the greater the difficulty and the number of tasks through which this type of care is evaluated.

Selective attention allows us to take care of certain stimulatory components, above other less relevant perceptual experiences. Differences between young and old people only appear when tasks are difficult and when it is necessary to ignore a significant amount of irrelevant information.

2. Memoria
Sensory memory, the most immediate of memory stores, generally shows a slight decline as a result of aging. The short-term memory of passive type does not seem to be affected by the age except for a small decrease in the speed of recovery of the information.

On the contrary, several longitudinal studies reveal that working or working memory does worsen throughout the age, especially from the age of 70. This is associated with the difficulties to handle the attentional processes described in the previous section.

As for the long-term memory, when the material is of a procedural or declarative type, there are no deficits associated with old age. On the other hand, episodic or autobiographical memories deteriorate clearly as the age advances, although those of the second decade of life are maintained more than the rest.

In summary, we can affirm that the deterioration of memory is not associated to old age directly but through the appearance of cognitive deficits of pathological intensity, which is not the case in all people. On the other hand, when memory problems are slight it is relatively easy to compensate them with behavioral strategies.

3. Intelligence
Although differences in intelligence as a function of age have been found, these are different depending on whether they are investigated transversally (comparing two different age groups at the same time) or longitudinal (over time In the same individuals). Another key aspect is the distinction between fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence, which refers to accumulated knowledge and its management, continues to increase throughout life, except if you have a mnesic disorder. In contrast, fluid intelligence, associated with the efficiency of neuronal transmission and other biological factors, shows an intense deterioration at least since the 70 years.

In this sense, special mention should be made of the phenomenon of terminal loss, which is a very severe deterioration in IQ scores in the last 5-10 months of life due to physical decline. Like the rest of intellectual deficits derived from old age, terminal loss is associated more to fluid than to crystallized intelligence.

4. Creativity
Creativity is defined as the human capacity to generate new ideas and original solutions through the association between existing mental contents. In psychology the concept of "divergent thinking" or "lateral thinking" is often used to refer to this ability, as opposed to convergent or vertical thinking, based on logic.

Although research on the evolution of creativity as a function of age is scarce, its results suggest that it is maintained and even improved over time in people who exercise it. However, among those who are not especially creative, such capacity is lower in old age than at earlier ages.

Source: Psicologia y Mente
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