Memory & Cognition

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 206–215 | Cite as

Memory for medication side effects in younger and older adults: The role of subjective and objective importance

  • Michael C. Friedman
  • Shannon McGillivray
  • Kou Murayama
  • Alan D. Castel


Older adults often experience memory impairments, but sometimes they can use selective processing and schematic support to remember important information. In the present experiments, we investigated the degrees to which younger and healthy older adults remembered medication side effects that were subjectively or objectively important to remember. Participants studied a list of common side effects and rated how negative these effects would be if they were to experience them, and they were then given a free recall test. In Experiment 1, the severity of the side effects ranged from mild (e.g., itching) to severe (e.g., stroke), and in Experiment 2, certain side effects were indicated as being critical to remember (i.e., “contact your doctor if you experience this”). We observed no age differences in terms of free recall of the side effects, and older adults remembered more severe side effects than mild effects. However, older adults were less likely to recognize the critical side effects on a later recognition test, relative to younger adults. These findings suggest that older adults can selectively remember medication side effects but have difficulty identifying familiar but potentially critical side effects, and this has implications for monitoring medication use in older age.


Memory Aging Medications Side effects Older adults 


Author note

M.C.F. is now at the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, Harvard University. We thank Monika Holser, Stephanie Knipprath, and Angel Wu for help with data collection, and Barbara Knowlton, Douglas Bell, and Robert Bjork for helpful comments. This research was conducted in partial fulfillment of a doctoral dissertation by M.C.F. at the University of California, Los Angeles. This research was presented at the 15th Biennial Cognitive Aging Conference, Atlanta, GA. This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Aging), Award Number R01AG044335.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael C. Friedman
    • 1
  • Shannon McGillivray
    • 2
  • Kou Murayama
    • 3
    • 4
  • Alan D. Castel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWeber State UniversityOgdenUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  4. 4.Kochi University of TechnologyKamiJapan

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