Lifetime of knowledge clutters memories in older adults: Study

ANIUpdated: Saturday, February 12, 2022, 05:47 PM IST
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We often rummage through our brains to remember that 'tiny bit of information' that has the potential to absolutely turn our situation around. When a person tries to access a memory, his brain quickly sifts through everything stored in it to find the relevant information. But as we age, many of us have difficulty retrieving memories. A new study has an explanation for this.

In a review published in the journal 'Trends in Cognitive Sciences', researchers proposed an explanation for why this might be happening: the brains of older adults allocated more space to accumulated knowledge and had more material to navigate when attempting to access memories.

While this wealth of prior knowledge can make memory retrieval challenging, the researchers said, it had its upsides -- this life experience can aid with creativity and decision-making.

Researchers Tarek Amer of Columbia University and Harvard University, Jordana Wynn of Harvard University, and Lynn Hasher of the University of Toronto looked at several behavioural and neuroimaging studies, which showed that older adults had difficulty suppressing information that was no longer relevant and that when searching for a specific memory, they often retrieved other, irrelevant memories along with it. The studies also showed that when given a cognitive task, older adults relied more heavily on previous knowledge than younger adults did.

While the researchers focussed primarily on the difficulties that these cluttered memories might pose, they also highlighted a few situations in which these crowded memory-scapes may be useful. "Evidence suggests that older adults show preserved, and at times enhanced, creativity as a function of enriched memories," the researchers wrote. They further hypothesized that older adults may be well served by their prior knowledge when it came to decision-making, where they could pull on their accumulated wisdom.

With continued study and increased understanding of how memory works in older adults, researchers were hopeful that they may be able to find new ways to help them. They wrote, "It is possible that the increased binding and richer encodings of older adults can even be leveraged to improve older adults' learning and memory."

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