Memories of past events retain remarkable fidelity even as we age

Scientists studying the complex relationship between aging and memory have found that in a controlled experiment, people can remember the details about past events with a surprising 94% accuracy, even accounting for age. These results, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that the stories we tell about past events are accurate, although details tend to fade with time.

“These results are surprising to many, given the general pessimism about memory accuracy among scientists and the prevalent idea that memory for one-time events is not to be trusted,” said Nicholas Diamond, the study’s lead researcher, a former graduate student at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), and currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

About 400 academics, including memory scientists, surveyed as part of this study estimated memory accuracy to be around 40% at best, expecting this score to be even lower for older participants or when greater amounts of time had elapsed since the events.

“This study shows us that memory accuracy is actually quite good under normal circumstances, and it remains stable as we age,” said Brian Levine, a senior scientist at RRI and a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Toronto and co-author on the study. “These results will be helpful for understanding memory in healthy aging.”

For their study, the researchers created an immersive, scientifically controlled event for their participants: a 30-minute audio-guided tour of art and other items displayed at Baycrest. Two days later, participants were asked to tell the researcher everything they could remember about the tour. The responses were recorded and then verified against the facts.

The researchers also tested Baycrest employees on their recall of a standardized, scripted procedure that they had experienced one month to three years prior. This allowed the researchers to examine the effect of delay between the event and memory recall, while the standardized nature of the procedure made it possible to verify accuracy.

Using standardized, verifiable events to test memory is an innovative approach, the researchers said, as scientists typically use artificial laboratory stimuli, such as random word lists, rather than real-life experiences, or they test participants’ memory for personal past experiences, which cannot be verified.

“This pessimism originates from earlier studies showing that memory can be manipulated using certain testing methods,” said Levine. “While those studies were important in showing the ways in which memory can fail, we wanted to know what happens when people freely recall events without such manipulation. We found that they are overwhelmingly accurate.”

The results showed that participants’ accuracy was high in both cases, though, as expected, the number of details they remembered decreased with age and time. At best, they recalled about 25% of their experience. “This suggests that we forget the majority of details from everyday events, but the details we do recall correspond to the reality of the past,” Diamond said.

In a related study also published in Psychological Science, Diamond and Levine examined the degree to which people’s memories matched the true order of events. In this case, younger adults tended to perform better than older adults, suggesting that while accuracy of details remains high with age, older adults are less likely to correctly remember the true sequence of past events. That is, the order of our memories becomes disorganized as we age.

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Coronavirus cases surge past 40 million infections worldwide

Concerning coronavirus trend? US sees big spike in new cases

Fox News correspondent Jonathan Serrie has the latest from Atlanta on ‘Special Report’

LONDON – The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the world has surpassed 40 million, but experts say that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true impact of the pandemic.

The milestone was hit Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, which collates reports from around the world.

The actual worldwide tally of COVID-19 cases is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, many people have had no symptoms and some governments have concealed the true number of cases. To date, more than 1.1 million confirmed virus deaths have been reported, although experts also believe that number is an undercount.

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The U.S., India, and Brazil are reporting by far the highest numbers of cases — 8.1 million, 7.5 million, and 5.2 million respectively — although the global increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe, which has seen more than 240,000 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic so far.

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Last week, the World Health Organization said Europe had reported a record weekly high of nearly 700,000 cases and said the region was responsible for about a third of cases globally. Britain, France, Russia and Spain account for about half of all new cases in the region, and countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic are facing more intense outbreaks now than they did in the spring.

WHO said the new measures being taken across Europe are “absolutely essential” in stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming its hospitals. Those include new requirements on mask-wearing in Italy and Switzerland, closing schools in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, closing restaurants and bars in Belgium, implementing a 9 p.m. curfew in France and having targeted limited lockdowns in parts of the U.K.

The agency said several European cities could soon see their intensive care units overwhelmed and warned that governments and citizens should take all necessary measures to slow the spread of the virus, including bolstering testing and contact tracing, wearing face masks, and following social distancing measures.

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WHO has previously estimated about 1 in 10 of the world's population — about 780 million people — have been infected with COVID-19, more than 20 times the official number of cases. That suggests the vast majority of the world's population is still susceptible to the virus.

Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.

A man walks past anti-lockdown graffiti in Manchester, England, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 as the row over Greater Manchester region’s coronavirus status continues. Britain’s government says discussions about implementing stricter restrictions in Greater Manchester must be completed Monday because the public health threat caused by rising COVID-19 infections is serious and getting worse. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against the belief that herd immunity might be a viable strategy to pursue, saying this kind of protection needs to be achieved by vaccination, not by deliberately exposing people to a potentially fatal disease.

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” Tedros said last week.

The U.N. health agency said it hopes there might be enough data to determine if any of the COVID-19 vaccines now being tested are effective by the end of the year. But it warned that first-generation vaccines are unlikely to provide complete protection and that it could take at least two years to bring the pandemic under control.

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