Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Senior Moment - Memory Clutter?

We all have our forgetful moments, a word we can't bring to mind, a name we've forgotten, or an appointment that slipped past us. We can't remember everything. Those who can, like actor Marilu Henner, are few and far between. But, as we get older, we seem to take more notice when we forget things, often making jokes about aging and memory loss, or perhaps fearing that this is what is happening.

While memory loss and the fear of dementia are concerning, they don't affect everyone who gets older. Forgetfulness though, is different, and researchers from the Georgia Technical Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, believe that a good part of the aging forgetfulness is merely a matter of us just having too much information to store. In other words, our hard drive has run out of space and certain files have to be archived.

The researchers used EEG to study the brains of two groups of subjects, those over the age of 60 years and college-age students. Both groups were shown photos of every day images and told to focus on certain things and ignore others.

At first, both groups were able to remember what they were told to focus on, and both had trouble ignoring what they were told pay attention to. But when the older subjects were questioned further about what they were supposed to focus on and remember, over time they became less sure of their responses and the other objects in the photos interrupted their memories. "[W]hen we asked if they were sure, older people backed off their answers a bit. They weren't as sure," lead author Audrey Duarte said in a release. The brain activity, recorded by EEG, showed that the older group put more effort into sorting out the appropriate memories.

"While trying to remember, their brains would spend more time going back in time in an attempt to piece together what was previously seen," she said. "But not just what they were focused on -- some of what they were told to ignore got stuck in their minds," she added.

This was a study environment, but we are faced with situations like this every day - walking to work, going out to lunch or dinner with friends, even shopping. We may be in a grocery store, with music overhead, conversations around us, and displays with food tasting, all while we're trying to concentrate on remember what we need to buy. Younger people who are asked what occurred during that time may have an easier time recalling what they saw or heard, while an older person may have to sort through different memories, clutter, trying to pull out what is relevant.

Why are details like this important to study? Duarte said that such findings could explain why seniors fall for scams that use manipulation. "If someone tells you that you should remember it one way, you can be more easily persuaded if you lack confidence," she said. "This memory clutter that's causing low confidence could be a reason why older adults are often victims of financial scams, which typically occur when someone tries to trick them about prior conversations that didn't take place at all."

It's an interesting look at memory as we age.