Pictorial superiority effects in oldest-old people

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We examined memory for pictures and words in middle-age (45-59 years), young-old (60-74 years), old-old (75-89 years), and the oldest-old adults (90-97 years) in the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study. Stimulus items were presented and retention was tested in a blocked order where half of the participants studied 16 simple line drawings and the other half studied matching words during acquisition. Free recall and recognition followed. In the next acquisition/test block a new set of items was used where the stimulus format was changed relative to the first block. Results yielded pictorial superiority effects in both retention measures for all age groups. Follow-up analyses of clustering in free recall revealed that a greater number of categories were accessed (which reflects participants' retrieval plan) and more items were recalled per category (which reflects participants' encoding strategy) when pictures served as stimuli compared to words. Cognitive status and working memory span were correlated with picture and word recall. Regression analyses confirmed that these individual difference variables accounted for significant age-related variance in recall. These data strongly suggest that the oldest-old can utilise nonverbal memory codes to support long-term retention as effectively as do younger adults.

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Memory (Hove, England)

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