Information Processing in the Elderly

Learning, memory, and attention are all aspects of cognition. Learning is the acquisition of information, skills, and knowledge, measured by improvement in responses. Memory involves retaining and retrieving information for later use. Attention is the mechanism by which individuals process information. Cognition is how sensory input is transformed, stored, and retrieved from memory.

Major stages of information-processing models of learning and memory include registration (input), storage (retention), and retrieval (process input for response). Attention is a major component of registration in that fo-

Aging and the Brain

Normal brain Aged brain

(third decade)

The human brain shrinks with age as nerve cells are lost and brain tissue atrophies. Cognitive changes in the elderly can range from mild forgetfulness to dementia. (Hans & Cassidy, Inc.)

cusing on stimuli and processing of information begin at this stage. Environmental influences, age-related sensoriperceptual changes, and pacing of instruction affect the processing of information.

Environmental influences can produce negative responses from the elderly because older adults are less comfortable in unfamiliar settings or with unfamiliar people and have difficulty performing multiple tasks. Additionally, the ability to block out extraneous information and to focus on multiple instructions decreases with age.

Sensoriperceptual changes include age-related vision deficits such as altered color perception as a result of yellowing of the eye lens, difficulty seeing at various distances as a result of presbyopia, difficulty adjusting from light to dark, and decreased peripheral vision and depth perception. Sen-sorineural hearing loss affects the ability to hear high-frequency sounds and consonants and hinders communication. Also, excessive noise interferes with the ability to hear in the elderly.

Pacing of instruction includes both the time it takes to present and the amount of information presented. With age, there is slowing of physiologi cal and psychological responses. Reaction time increases. Studies have shown that the elderly learn more efficiently when they are able to learn and respond at their own pace.

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