Research Article: Memory strategy use in older adults with subjective memory complaints

Date Published: October 5, 2016

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

Author(s): Nikita L. Frankenmolen, Eduard J. Overdorp, Luciano Fasotti, Jurgen A. H. R. Claassen, Roy P. C. Kessels, Joukje M. Oosterman.


Subjective memory complaints (SMC) are common among older adults, but it is unclear to what extent adults with SMC spontaneously use memory strategies to compensate for their memory problems. As SMC may be a risk factor for memory decline later, it is important to extend our knowledge about spontaneous compensatory mechanisms in older adults with SMC.

Self-reported strategy use and observed strategy use were assessed in 38 adults with and 38 without SMC.

Adults with SMC used more strategies in daily life than those without. In the SMC group, memory complaints were positively correlated with strategy use. Only in adults without SMC, a significant correlation was found between observed strategy use and task performance.

Strategy use in older adults with SMC may be compensatory in nature, but did not increase their objective memory performance. Therefore, older adults with SMC might benefit from interventions aimed at optimizing strategy use.

Partial Text

Older adults with subjective memory complaints (SMC) experience a decline in memory functioning, without evidence for objective cognitive impairments or an underlying neurodegenerative disease or psychological disorder [1]. Although the experienced decline lies within the normal limits of cognitive ageing, it negatively influences everyday functioning and quality of life [2]. Moreover, older adults with SMC have an increased risk of future cognitive decline and dementia [3], which stresses the need for early intervention.

No between/group differences were found with respect to age [t(74) = −1.71, p = .092], sex distribution [χ2(1) = .65, p = .819], education level (U = 890.50, p = .072), IQ estimate [t(74) = .22, p = .828] and SOT story recall [t(73) = .61, p = .544]. As expected, the SMC group reported significantly more memory complaints than the group without SMC [t(74) = −5.82, p < .001]. This study examined memory strategy use in older adults with and without SMC. Both groups used more external than internal strategies in daily life, which is consistent with previous findings in ageing [6]. Furthermore, the older adults with SMC reported using more memory strategies in daily life than the individuals who did not experience SMC. Moreover, strong correlations were found between the amount of memory complaints and strategy use within the SMC group. Although none of the participants in the SMC group had any clinically relevant deficits as measured with neuropsychological tests, they may encounter problems in daily life tasks that require a complex interaction of cognitive skills [14]. The increased strategy use may reflect a compensatory approach, in line with recent evidence showing that participants with SMC recruit additional, compensatory neural networks for successful cognitive performance compared to older adults without SMC [7, 8]. This study shows that older adults with SMC may compensate for their experienced memory decline by using more compensatory strategies in daily life. However, increased strategy use did not correlate with performance on a memory task in adults with SMC, suggesting that the strategy use in older adults with SMC may not be as efficient as in older adults without SMC.   Source:


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