Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Senior Citizen Memory Lapses Linked to Problems
Processing Everyday Events
Older adults who showed atrophy in medial temporal
lobe weren’t as good at remembering the everyday activities
May 7, 2013 - Some memory problems common to older
adults may stem from an inability to segment daily life into discrete
experiences and this may be associated with atrophy in a part of the
brain, according to a new study.
The study suggests that problems processing
everyday events may be the result of age-related atrophy to a part of
the brain called the medial temporal lobe (MTL).
“When you think back on what you did yesterday, you
don’t just press ‘play’ and watch a continuous stream of 24 hours,” says
psychological scientist Heather Bailey of Washington University in St.
Louis, who led the study. “Your brain naturally chunks the events in
your day into discrete parts.”
Bailey and her colleagues hypothesized that older
adults may have difficulty with memory for everyday events because they
don’t segment them in the same way as they’re happening.
In the study, older adults - some of whom had
Alzheimer’s type dementia - watched short movies of people doing
everyday tasks, such as a woman making breakfast or a man building a
Lego ship. They were told to separate the movie into chunks by pressing
a button whenever they thought one part of the activity in the movie was
ending and a new part was beginning.
Afterward, the researchers asked the older adults
to recall what happened in the movie. They also measured the size of the
older adults’ MTL using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“The older adults who showed atrophy in the MTL
weren’t as good at remembering the everyday activities, and they weren’t
as good at segmenting and chunking the events as they were happening,”
About Medial Temporal Lobe
The medial temporal lobe consists of structures
that are vital for declarative or long-term memory.
explicit memory is conscious memory divided into
semantic memory (facts) and
episodic memory (events). Medial temporal lobe structures
that are critical for long-term memory include the
brainstem, and hippocampus, along with the surrounding
hippocampal region consisting of the
entorhinal neocortical regions.
The hippocampus is critical
for memory formation, and the surrounding medial temporal cortex
is currently theorized to be critical for memory storage.
prefrontal and visual cortices are also involved in explicit
More at Wikipedia
“MTL size accounted for a huge portion of the
relationship that we saw between participants’ ability to segment and
their memory for the events.”
These findings suggest that the characteristic
forgetfulness of the aging mind isn’t just a problem with recalling
memories later, but also with how we view and chunk events as they
unfold, a process that depends on MTL functioning.
In light of this, focusing on how to better form
new memories may be one way to improve older adults’ memory for everyday
events, even for those adults who have clinical diagnoses like
“Alzheimer’s disease attacks the MTL in the early
stages of the disease,” says Bailey. “But even with MTL atrophy you may
be able to train people to chunk better, which might help them to
remember their everyday activities better, too.”
As part of their future research, Bailey and
colleagues hope to further investigate the link between event perception
and memory to see if they can combat memory impairments in older adults.
The study is published in
Psychological Science, a
journal of the
Association for Psychological
Co-authors on the research include Jeffrey M. Zacks
and Denise Head of Washington University in St. Louis; David Z. Hambrick
and Rose T. Zacks of Michigan State University; Christopher A. Kurby and
Jesse Q. Sargent of Francis Marion University.
This research was supported by National Institutes
of Health Grants R01 AG031150 and F32 AG039162; and National Institute
on Aging Grants P50 AG05681, P01 AG03991, and P01 AG26276.
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