Slower memory may be due to accumulated experiences, not age

Many people associate cognitive issues, such as a weakened memory, as a normal part of aging. While that may be true in some cases, a team of researchers from Germany recently found that older adults may experience slowed cognitive function due to the accumulation of stored memories and experience, not because of a natural age-related decline.

The study
The findings come from scientists at Tübingen University, where they made use of computer models to recreate adults’ memory recall abilities at different stages in their lives. During their trials, researchers fed the computer more information each day to mimic the accumulation of experiences and memories overtime. Scientists found that as the computer was given more information, its performance was similar to that of an older adult’s memory.

“Forget about forgetting,” said Tübingen researcher Peter Hendrix, “if I wanted to get the computer to look like an older adult, I had to keep all the words it learned in memory and let them compete for attention.”

A more complex picture
Scientists say that these results create a more complicated picture of memory loss and aging than the senior care community may have previously considered. Rather than testing cognitive function with the assumption that brains get weaker with age, medical experts might have other factors to take into account.

“The brains of older people do not get weak,” said study leader Dr. Michael Ramscar. “On the contrary, they simply know more.”

Proactive preservation
Although these findings may help the general population rethink the way they view aging, it does not mean that seniors still can’t take some proactive steps to make sure their cognitive function is a sharp as possible. There are a variety of options, whether it’s joining a club at their retirement living residence or staying physically active. A new study from the University of South Dakota strengthened the notion that diet – specifically omega-3 fatty acids – can help maintain brain function later in life.

The study relied on data from Women’s Health Initiative Memory Survey. Scientists measured the levels of omega-3 in the subjects’ red blood cells and found that participants who had a larger amount also saw about a 2.7 percent greater volume of their hippocampus – the area of the brain most closely associated with memory.