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The 4 psychological changes in old age (memory, attention, intelligence, creativity)

The 4 psychological changes in old age (memory, attention, intelligence, creativity)

September 24, 2022

Most people think that old age is a stage characterized by the decline in all the functions of the organism, including cognitive ones. However, the investigation reveals that the psychological changes in memory, intelligence, attention or creativity proper to aging Not pathological are less than we think.

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Psychological changes that occur in old age

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


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

1. Attention

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

We speak of sustained attention when a task requires that we keep the focus fixed on a single stimulus for a relatively long period of time. Older people are less precise when initiating tasks, but their degree of success is not reduced more than that of young people as time passes.


On the other hand, the deterioration of divided attention is much more marked, consisting of alternating the attentional focus between different stimulatory 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 give priority attention to certain stimulus components, above other less relevant perceptual experiences. The 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.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Selective attention: definition and theories"

2. Memory

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


On the other hand, several longitudinal studies reveal that working or working memory does worsen in old age, especially after 70 years of age. This is associated with the difficulties in handling the attention processes that we have described in the previous section.

Regarding long-term memory, When the material is procedural or declarative, deficits do not occur associated with old age. On the other hand, episodic or autobiographical memories deteriorate clearly as age advances, although those of the second decade of life remain more than those of the rest.

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

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3. Intelligence

Although differences in intelligence have been found as a function of age, 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, does not stop increasing throughout life, except if you suffer from a mnesic disorder. Instead fluid intelligence, associated with the efficiency of neuronal transmission and other biological factors, shows an intense deterioration at least from 70 years .

In this sense, special mention should be made of the phenomenon of terminal loss, which consists of a very intense 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, the terminal loss is associated to a greater extent to the fluid intelligence that to the crystallized.

  • Related article: "Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence: what are they?"

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 capacity, as opposed to convergent or vertical thinking, based on logic.

Although research on the evolution of creativity based on age is scarce, its results suggest that it stays and even improves with the passage of time in the people who exercise it . However, among those who are not especially creative such capacity is lower in old age than in younger ages.


Controversy of Intelligence: Crash Course Psychology #23 (September 2022).


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