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False recall in older adults and Alzheimer's linked to attention, not memory, breakdown

"When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; 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."
-- Mark Twain

Mark Twain was not the first person to recognize the propensity of old folks to clearly recall things that never happened, but new research from Washington University in St. Louis is providing still more evidence that Twain based his satire on a keen understanding of the human condition.

"Our study reaffirms what Mark Twain said years ago -- older adults do appear more likely to remember things that never happened," said David Balota, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of psychology in Arts and Sciences at Washington University.

"It is sad, as Twain said, when our memories 'go to pieces,' but Twain may have been wrong when he said that we all have to do it," Balota said. "Our studies and other ongoing research in the field are beginning to provide important clues about the processes that lead to memory loss in both normal aging and in Alzheimer's, and about which specific aspects of memory are prone to breakdowns and which seem to remain intact."

In an invited address June 5, 1999, at the American Psychological Society meeting in Denver, Balota will argue that this study provides further compelling evidence in support of a relatively novel approach to understanding how Alzheimer's cripples the human mind.

"These findings suggest that the cognitive problems associated with Alzheimer's might be better conceptualized as a breakdown in attention rather than primarily a breakdown in memory in the classical sense," Balota said.

"Our results are quite consistent with recent neuropathological evidence linking Alzheimer's disease to physical breakdowns in the frontal lobes, where much of the mind's strategic
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Contact: Gerry Everding
gerry_everding@aismail.wustl.edu
314-935-6375
Washington University in St. Louis
4-Jun-1999


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