Age related memory loss can
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Don't remember where you have left
your car keys or where you have put your specs? Well, researchers at the Yale
University in New Haven, Connecticut, have discovered why you can't find them.
It is well known that as people age, they tend to forget things more often, are
more easily distracted and disrupted by interference, and have greater
difficulty with executive functions.
While these age-related deficits have been known for many years, the cellular
basis for these common cognitive difficulties has not been understood.
Now Yale researchers have found that the neural networks in the brains of the
middle-aged and elderly have weaker connections and fire less robustly than in
Interestingly, the condition can be reversed with drugs.
"Age-related cognitive deficits can have a serious impact on our lives in the
Information Age as people often need higher cognitive functions to meet even
basic needs, such as paying bills or accessing medical care," said Amy Arnsten,
Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology and a member of the Kavli Institute for
"These abilities are critical for maintaining demanding careers and being able
to live independently as we grow older," she added.
The new study examined for the first time age-related changes in the activity of
neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area of the brain that is
responsible for higher cognitive and executive functions.
Networks of neurons in the prefrontal cortex generate persistent firing to keep
information "in mind" even in the absence of cues from the environment. This
process is called "working memory," and it allows us to recall information, such
as where the car keys were left, even when that information must be constantly
This ability, called the "Mental Sketch Pad", is also essential for executive
functions, such as multi-tasking, organizing, and inhibiting inappropriate
thoughts and actions.
Arnsten and her team studied the firing of prefrontal cortical neurons in young,
middle-aged and aged animals as they performed a working memory task.
Neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the young animals were able to maintain
firing at a high rate during working memory.
In the ageing monkeys, the connections were weaker and the brain cells fired
But giving them guanfacine, a medication that is already approved for treating
hypertension in adults, significantly speeded up the process, making it more
akin to that in young animals.
Experts at Yale have already started testing guanfacine on healthy men and women
to see if it stops memory lapses.
The study is published in the current issue of Nature.
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