‘Link be­tween what we see and how we re­mem­ber ‘breaks’ as we get older’

Sunday Trust - - NEWS HEALTH - Source:www.sci­encedaily.com

For­get­ful­ness and agere­lated mem­ory lapses are a com­mon com­plaint for many older adults, but what is still not un­der­stood is what causes these changes.

Re­cent re­search pub­lished by sci­en­tists at Bay­crest’s Rot­man Re­search In­sti­tute (RRI) brings us a step closer to un­cov­er­ing the an­swer, which could help with dis­tin­guish­ing signs of de­men­tia ear­lier.

The study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia, found that among older adults, there is a much weaker re­la­tion­ship be­tween what their eyes see and their brain ac­tiv­ity.

“Eye move­ments are im­por­tant for gather­ing in­for­ma­tion from the world and the mem­ory cen­tre of the brain -- the hip­pocam­pus -- is im­por­tant for bind­ing this data to­gether to form a mem­ory of what our eyes see,” says Dr. Jen­nifer Ryan, RRI se­nior sci­en­tist and Reva James Leeds Chair in Neu­ro­science and Re­search Lead­er­ship. “But we found that older adults are not build­ing up the mem­ory in the same way as younger adults. Some­thing is fall­ing apart some­where along the path of tak­ing in vis­ual in­for­ma­tion through the eyes and stor­ing what is seen into a mem­ory.”

Pre­vi­ously, Bay­crest re­searchers had iden­ti­fied a con­nec­tion be­tween what we see and how we re­mem­ber -- when the eyes view and process more de­tails of an ob­ject in front of them, there is more brain ac­tiv­ity in the mem­ory cen­tre of the brain. When the ob­ject is seen mul­ti­ple times, there is a pro­gres­sive drop in hip­pocam­pus ac­tiv­ity, in­di­cat­ing that what is seen is no longer new in­for­ma­tion. But this doesn’t hap­pen with older adults.

In the lat­est study, re­searchers found that older adults ex­hib­ited greater eye move­ments, but there isn’t a cor­re­spond­ing pat­tern in brain ac­tiv­ity.

“These find­ings demon­strate that the eyes and brain are tak­ing in in­for­ma­tion from their sur­round­ings, but the link­age as­pect of cre­at­ing a mem­ory ap­pears to be bro­ken,” adds Dr. Ryan, who is also a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto. “When the mem­ory isn’t be­ing cre­ated, the ob­ject con­tin­ues to re­main un­fa­mil­iar to a per­son, even when they have seen it mul­ti­ple times.”

The study was con­ducted with 21 older adults (be­tween the ages of 64 and 79) and 20 younger adults (be­tween the ages of 19 and 28). Re­search par­tic­i­pants were briefly shown faces on a screen where some of the im­ages were dis­played mul­ti­ple times. Re­searchers an­a­lyzed the eye move­ments and brain scans of in­di­vid­u­als as they looked at and an­a­lyzed the pic­tures.

As next steps, re­searchers will con­tinue ex­plor­ing the trig­gers of eye move­ments and re­lated ac­tiv­ity in the brain, which could be used to help pre­dict ear­lier cog­ni­tive de­cline in Alzheimer’s dis­ease or other re­lated de­men­tias.

This study was con­ducted with sup­port from the Cana­dian In­sti­tutes of Health Re­search, Nat­u­ral Sciences and En­gi­neer­ing Re­search Coun­cil and the Canada Re­search Chairs Pro­gram.

With ad­di­tional fund­ing, sci­en­tists could con­tinue re­search that would in­form the de­vel­op­ment of an eye-track­ing cog­ni­tive as­sess­ment that could one day help doc­tors eval­u­ate cog­ni­tive de­cline in clients.

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