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False memories, failing recall are not an inevitable consequence of aging, research suggests

Toronto, Aug. 8, 2003 -- In his old age, American humorist Mark Twain once mused that his mental faculties had decayed such that he could remember only things that never happened.

"When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not," Twain wrote. "But my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it." Modern science has confirmed Twain's conjecture -- research shows that memory skills tend to decline dramatically in old age, with decreasing levels of accuracy and increasing errors. However, new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests age-related cognitive decay may not be as inevitable as Twain contended.

"Our study suggests that the failing memories of older adults, including their tendency to remember things that never happened, are not an inevitable consequence of aging," said Henry L. "Roddy" Roediger III, study co-author and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Washington University.

In research to be presented Aug. 8 at the American Psychological Association meeting in Toronto, Roediger provides evidence that false memories and other cognitive declines often associated with normal aging can be more directly linked to measurable declines in executive control functions in frontal brain lobes.

"We tested a group of adults with an average age of 75 years and found that about one out of four had managed to avoid the memory declines so common in older adults," said Roediger. "Older adults who maintain high frontal lobe function were shown to have memory skills every bit as sharp as a group of college students in their early 20s."

Roediger, a leading expert on human memory, has focused recent research on understanding cognitive processes behind the creation of false memories, also known as memory illusions. Human memory, he explains, is not a storehouse o
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Contact: Gerry Everding
gerry_everding@aismail.wustl.edu
314-935-6375
Washington University in St. Louis
8-Aug-2003


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