Remember this: Age moderation of genetic and environmental contributions to verbal episodic memory from midlife through late adulthood

Susan E. Luczak*, Christopher R. Beam, Shandell Pahlen, Morgan Lynch, Matthew Pilgrim, Chandra A. Reynolds, Matthew S. Panizzon, Vibeke S. Catts, Kaare Christensen, Deborah Finkel, Carol E. Franz, William S. Kremen, Teresa Lee, Matt McGue, Marianne Nygaard, Brenda L. Plassman, Keith E. Whitfield, Nancy L. Pedersen, Margaret Gatz, for the IGEMS Consortium

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


It is well documented that memory is heritable and that older adults tend to have poorer memory performance than younger adults. However, whether the magnitudes of genetic and environmental contributions to late-life verbal episodic memory ability differ from those at earlier ages remains unresolved. Twins from 12 studies participating in the Interplay of Genes and Environment in Multiple Studies (IGEMS) consortium constituted the analytic sample. Verbal episodic memory was assessed with immediate word list recall (N = 35,204 individuals; 21,792 twin pairs) and prose recall (N = 3805 individuals; 2028 twin pairs), with scores harmonized across studies. Average test performance was lower in successively older age groups for both measures. Twin models found significant age moderation for both measures, with total inter-individual variance increasing significantly with age, although it was not possible definitively to attribute the increase specifically to either genetic or environmental sources. Pooled results across all 12 studies were compared to results where we successively dropped each study (leave-one-out) to assure results were not due to an outlier. We conclude the models indicated an overall increase in variance for verbal episodic memory that was driven by a combination of increases in the genetic and nonshared environmental parameters that were not independently statistically significant. In contrast to reported results for other cognitive domains, differences in environmental exposures are comparatively important for verbal episodic memory, especially word list learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101759
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jul 2023

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  • Aging
  • Twin studies
  • Verbal episodic memory


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