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Friday, July 15, 2011

Aging and Remembering People’s Names

     One of my biggest problems, which has been with me for a long time, and seems to be increasing, is being able to remember people’s names. I have other cognitive difficulties but this one is the most frustrating.  I am not alone “A common complaint of older adults is that they have trouble remembering names, even the names of people they know well.”[i] Specifically this research found that people in their 70s  “…show an impairment in recall of names of known people, but not of known objects.” Other forms of memory problems weren’t differentiated on the basis of age.
         There are also other types of cognitive skills problems listed in the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire.  It has several main categories. They are memory, distractibility, blunders, and memory for names. The rest of this blog entry will deal with memory for names. Future blog entries will take a look at the others.

        The main memory items are:

  1. Do you leave important letters unanswered for days?
  2. Do you find you forget people's names?
  3. Do you fail to listen to people's names when you are meeting them?
        It often takes at least a week for me to answer important letters including those from my financial advisor and within the last year I have had a very difficult time remembering peoples name that I have known for years but don’t see very often.  The good side of it is that instead of getting stressed trying to remember them I relax and inevitably, usually within a minute or so, the name pops into my consciousness.
         I have historically not paid much attention to people’s names. The first time I remember having difficulty with remembering a person’s name was in my second year at University.  I was walking along with a person who I had recently met in one of my courses.  Coming toward us was a person who I had attended high school with. He waved at me as he approached.  I tried very hard to remember his name but nothing came up as he approached. When we are close enough to talk I did a very silly thing. I said, “I know you both well enough to know that the best way for you to meet is for each of you to tell the other his name.”    They both looked at me as if I was some kind of idiot.  They did exchange names but neither of my relationships with them grew after that.
         Finally, I spend quite a bit of time watching TV, I recognize faces of actors that I haven’t seen for 30 years but it takes a lot more to remember their names. If you think about the very early days of humans’ survival would likely be more probable in recognizing the face of someone whether or not you remembered his or her name.


[i]   Wallace, J. Craig; Kass, Steven J.; Stanny, Claudia (2002). The cognitive failures questionnaire revisited: Dimensions and correlates, Journal of General Psychology,129(3), 238-256. 

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