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Investigating the reasons behind memory difficulties

Investigating the reasons behind memory difficulties

Everyday memory difficulties are a common experience that becomes more frequent with age. Massey University doctoral graduate Dr Bridget Burmester has examined whether there is a better way to explain what causes everyday memory difficulties.

Her research, a first of its kind in New Zealand, has shown everyday memory difficulties can result from a combination of three factors: what kinds of tests are used to measure the memory difficulties, a person's emotional wellbeing, and their brain speed. Dr Burmester conducted a survey with 400 people and worked one-on-one with 94 people to look at their abilities in more detail.

“My results suggest that when clinicians or doctors are assessing age-related memory difficulties, it's important for them to also assess the person's emotional wellbeing. Even if it's not severe or doesn't qualify for an official diagnosis, it can still affect their memory. My thesis also showed that it's important for people who experience the odd memory difficulty, like forgetting someone's name, to cut themselves some slack, because lots of factors can affect this and it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong at all.”

Dr Burmester was surprised by how common these kinds of everyday memory difficulties are. “Sometimes it can be hard to find participants willing to be part of research like this, especially when it involves such in-depth analysis and time commitment on their part. But I was grateful to have so many people keen to take part, and who were willing to share personal details of their lives with me so that we can understand better how our brains work.”

The 31-year-old, originally from Whangarei, gained her Bachelor of Science with Honours in Psychology, and undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Linguistics from Victoria University in Wellington. She now lives in Lower Hutt with her husband Dane and dog Roxy.

Dr Burmester is currently working as a researcher for the Ministry of Social Development. “My background in psychology is central in my mission to improve New Zealand by making sure that the decisions we make are based on both sound research evidence and an understanding of what makes us all human.”

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