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The Gerontologist 43:57-67 (2003)
© 2003 The Gerontological Society of America

Theoretical Models of Cognitive Aging and Implications for Translational Research in Medicine

Scott C. Brown, PhD1,2, and Denise C. Park, PhD1,3

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Scott C. Brown, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Rheumatology, University of Michigan Medical Center, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, 3918 Taubman Center, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0358. E-mail: scbrown{at}

Purpose: We provide an overview of theoretical models of cognitive aging and present empirical research that uses these models to explain older patients' medical behaviors and to develop interventions for improving the delivery of health information and services to older adults. Design and Methods: Theoretical accounts of age and cognition are summarized and are related to key research findings, including age differences in comprehension of medical information, adherence, and use of medical technologies. The implications of cognitive aging theories for designing optimal medical environments and enhancing adherence are discussed. Results: Age declines in basic cognitive abilities such as working memory capacity limit older adults' ability to comprehend and recall several types of novel medical information. In contrast, automatic processes and environmental cues can benefit older adults, as shown by age increases in compliance for practiced or mentally imaged health behaviors, but can also be dangerous, as shown by older adults' greater belief in false but familiar health statements. Last, cognitive aging is shown to be a useful model for investigating cognitive disorders. Implications: Cognitive aging theories are important for understanding older patient behaviors and suggest age-related declines as well as gains in performance in medical domains. In addition, models of cognitive aging are useful in guiding the development of interventions that improve health care in older patients and in furthering our understanding of cognitive dysfunction in populations other than older adults.

Key Words: Cognitive aging • Medical information • Adherence • Medical devices

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Copyright © 2003 by The Gerontological Society of America.