The older we get, the more difficulty we seem to have remembering things. We reassure ourselves that our brains’ “hard drives” are too full to handle the new information that comes in daily. But a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist suggests that our aging brains are unable to process this information as “new” because the brain pathways leading to the hippocampus become degraded over time. As a result, our brains cannot accurately “file” new information.
It’s something we just accept: the fact that the older we get, the more difficulty we seem to have remembering things. We can leave our cars in the same parking lot each morning, but unless we park in the same space each and every day, it’s a challenge eight hours later to recall whether we left the SUV in the second or fifth row. Or, we can be introduced to new colleagues at a meeting and will have forgotten their names before the handshake is over. We shrug and nervously reassure ourselves that our brains’ “hard drives” are just too full to handle the barrage of new information that comes in daily.
According to a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, however, the real trouble is that our aging brains are unable to process this information as “new” because the brain pathways leading to the hippocampus — the area of the brain that stores memories — become degraded over time. As a result, our brains cannot accurately “file” new information (like where we left the car that particular morning), and confusion results.
“Our research uses brain imaging techniques that investigate both the brain’s functional and structural integrity to demonstrate that age is associated with a reduction in the hippocampus’s ability to do its job, and this is related to the reduced input it is getting from the rest of the brain,” said Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “As we get older, we are much more susceptible to ‘interference’ from older memories than we are when we are younger.”
In other words, when faced with an experience similar to what it has encountered before, such as parking the car, our brain tends to recall old information it already has stored instead of filing new information and being able to retrieve that. The result? You can’t find your car immediately and find yourself wandering the parking lot.