Key to Strong Memory in Old Age: Just Believe

Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds

If you don't believe you'll have a good memory when you get older, then you might as well forget about this article.

But if you can just believe, then it might come true.

So says Margie Lachman, professor of psychology at Brandeis University. Lachman and her colleagues asked 335 adults, ages 21 to 83, to recall a list of 30 words that could be categorized as types of fruit, flowers and so on. Among the middle-aged and older people, those who had more confidence in their ability to control their cognitive functioning did better on the test.

Belief in your ability to retain a good memory helps make it happen, Lachman concludes.

"Our study shows that the more you believe there are things you can do to remember information, the more likely you will be to use effort and adaptive strategies and to allocate resources effectively, and the less you will worry about forgetting," she said.

Memory problems in youth get blamed on distraction or some other factor. But older people tend to blame their mental lapses on age. Many see memory decline as an "inevitable, irreversible, and uncontrollable part of the aging process," Lachman said today. "These beliefs are detrimental because they are associated with distress, anxiety, and giving up without expending the effort or strategies needed to support memory."

Lachman and her colleagues, writing in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, say preventing memory decline should involve interventions that target conceptions of control over memory.

And if nothing else, remember these tips: Mental exercises can cut your risk for dementia almost in half, another study showed, and just two weeks of memory training and improved diet and exercise can boost your recall abilities.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.