A new study may help explain why people of a more advanced age forget where they put their keys, hid important documents—or even who was on hand during a recent outing. University of Arizona in Tucson researchers report in The Journal of Neuroscience that forgetfulness may, at least in part, stem from a breakdown in the brain's ability to store or consolidate memories, a process that involves "replaying" and filing away events while we snooze.
In a study of rats, the scientists found that when the animals were at rest there were repeating patterns of neuronal (nerve cell) activity believed to be involved in moving information from short-term to long-term memory vaults in the brain. The process, however, was disrupted in the older rats.
The new work is the first to show that an animal's ability to store memories may be linked to the crispness of its recollections. Among the older rats, replay occurred, but their brains scrambled the sequences in which the neurons fired (transmitted electrical impulses to communicate with neighboring cells)."
Memory does change during the process of normal aging, and it happens in all of us," says study co-author Carol Barnes, a neuroscientist. "If you're playing an experience in the wrong order, it's not going to faithfully allow you to retrieve an accurate memory in the end."
Boston University neuroscientist Michael Hasselmo, who was not involved in the study, says the findings provide compelling evidence that at least some age-related memory loss may be due to faulty storage and may pave the way for new drugs designed to enhance memory replay.
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