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Effects of age on a real-world What-Where-When memory task.

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jenny ReadORCiD, Dr Peter GallagherORCiD, Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Many cognitive abilities decline with aging, making it difficult to detect pathological changes against a background of natural changes in cognition. Most of the tests to assess cognitive decline are artificial tasks that have little resemblance to the problems faced by people in everyday life. This means both that people may have little practice doing such tasks (potentially contributing to the decline in performance) and that the tasks may not be good predictors of real-world cognitive problems. In this study, we test the performance of young people (18-25 years) and older people (60+- year-olds) on a novel, more ecologically valid test of episodic memory: the real-world What- Where-When (WWW) memory test. We also compare them on a battery of other cognitive tests, including working memory, psychomotor speed, executive function, and episodic memory. Older people show the expected age-related declines on the test battery. In the WWW memory task, older people were more likely to fail to remember any What-Where-When combination than younger people were, although they did not significantly differ in their overall WWW score due to some older people performing as well as or better than most younger people. WWW memory performance was significantly predicted by other measures of episodic memory, such as the single-trial learning and long-term retention in the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning task and Combined Object Location Memory in the Object Relocation task. Self-reported memory complaints also predicted performance on the WWW task. These findings confirm that our real-world WWW memory task is a valid measure of episodic memory, with high ecological validity, which may be useful as a predictor of everyday memory abilities. The task will require a bit more development to improve its sensitivity to cognitive declines in aging and to potentially distinguish between mentally healthy older adults and those with early signs of cognitive pathologies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mazurek A, Bhoopathy R, Read JCA, Gallagher P, Smulders TV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Year: 2015

Volume: 7

Online publication date: 18/05/2015

Acceptance date: 23/04/2015

Date deposited: 22/07/2015

ISSN (electronic): 1663-4365

Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation


DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00074

PubMed id: 26042030


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