In the course of normal aging, memory functions show signs of impairment. Studies of memory in the elderly have previously focused on a single sensory modality, although multisensory encoding has been shown to improve memory performance in children and young adults. In this study, we investigated how audiovisual encoding affects auditory recognition memory in older (mean age 71 years) and younger (mean age 23 years) adults. Participants memorized auditory stimuli (sounds, spoken words) presented either alone or with semantically congruent visual stimuli (pictures, text) during encoding. Subsequent recognition memory performance of auditory stimuli was better for stimuli initially presented together with visual stimuli than for auditory stimuli presented alone during encoding. This facilitation was observed both in older and younger participants, while the overall memory performance was poorer in older participants. However, the pattern of facilitation was influenced by age. When encoding spoken words, the gain was greater for older adults. When encoding sounds, the gain was greater for younger adults. These findings show that semantically congruent audiovisual encoding improves memory performance in late adulthood, particularly for auditory verbal material.
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