Training can improve age-related memory decline in elderly

February 16, 2002 -- Studies using a powerful imaging technique that measures brain activity indicate that some cognitive deficits associated with aging may not be completely irreversible. By comparing brain activity as young and older adults were asked to memorize a series of words, researchers have found that one type of memory-processing deficit often seen in the elderly might be improved by explicit training.

In an article that will be published online on February 16, 2002, by the journal Neuron, Randy Buckner, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues report that elderly subjects showed two distinct kinds of cognitive-processing deficits -- called "under-recruitment" and "non-selective recruitment"-- when asked to perform memory tasks. Buckner will also discuss the new studies in a press conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston on February 16.

In under-recruitment, older subjects are less able to spontaneously recruit specific areas of the brain that aid in memory processing. In non-selective recruitment, older subjects tend to draw on regions of the brain that are not useful in memory processing tasks.

While older people can likely learn techniques to help overcome under-recruitment deficits, said the scientists, non-selective recruitment seems to increase with age. According to Buckner, the researchers began their comparative experiments based on many past studies that have shown a reduction in cognitive abilities with age.

"For a long time, we have known that as people age they start to have difficulties with higher-level-controlled cognitive processes," said Buckner. "For example, sometimes older adults have difficulty in novel situations where they must respond flexibly to memorize things." Considerable evidence has indicat

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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