No More Memory Like an Elephant

Alzheimer's memory loss with aging researched through hippocampus

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Where are my keys? Which row is my car on at the grocery store? Did I pay that bill? These are just  a few of the forgetful journeys one makes daily as age descends upon us.

Johns Hopkins researchers found that the 'perforant pathway', which is the information highway to the important brain region which stores memory, is somehow corroded with age, making memory and recall less effective. This leads to confusion and memory loss.

"Ask your doctor about new drugs to prevent age-related memory loss."

Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins' Krieger School of Arts and Sciences explains that they will attempt to develop a drug to improve the pathway's function which will in turn, improve hippocampal function.

Yassa believes that even if the drug to be developed just slows down pathway degradation and hippocampal dysfunction, it might delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five to 10 years.

Yassa said that the real trouble is that our aging brains can't properly process new information. As a result, our brain's filing system for new files doesn't work properly. 

As one ages, the susceptibility  to 'interference' from older memories are greater than in one's youth and young adulthood. Yassa speculates that a lovely quality older people often have of reminiscing may be because it is easier to call up old memories than store new ones. 

Three kinds of MRI scans were used in the study: structural MRI scans, which find structural abnormalities, functional MRI scans, which find how hard different regions of the brain work and diffusion MRIs, which find how well different parts of the brain communicate.

Older adults had fewer 'similar' responses and more 'old' responses, indicating older people were less able to distinguish between similar items. 

Older people also struggled with the similar yet different pictures as scientists observed through functional MRI their brains struggling in the hippocampus.

The Study

  • MRI scans used to investigate the brains of 40 healthy young college students and older adults, ages 60 to 80
  • First Round: Participants viewed pictures of objects and were asked to classify if the picture was "indoor" or "outdoor"
  • Some pictures were similar, yet different
  • Younger people's brains treated all the images the similar yet different pictures as new
  • Second round: Participants viewed a series of all new, all different pictures and again were asked to classify them as either "indoor" or "outdoor"
  • Minutes later,  participants viewed a new set of pictures and asked whether each picture was "old," "new" or "similar"
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 14, 2011
Last Updated:
May 20, 2011