Memory decline linked to an inability to ignore distractions

Mar 25, 2010

One of the most common complaints among healthy older adults relates to a decline in memory performance. This decline has been linked to an inability to ignore irrelevant information when forming memories. In order to ignore distracting information, the brain should act to suppress its responses to distractions, but it has been shown that in older adults there is in fact an increase in brain activity at those times. In a new study published in the April 2010 issue of Elsevier's Cortex researchers at the University of California San Francisco have shown that even prior knowledge of an impending distraction does not help to improve the working memory performance of older adults.

Drs. Theodore Zanto and Adam Gazzaley studied 21 adults aged between 60 and 80 years while they performed a task in which they were shown random sequences of pictures containing faces and scenes. From a given sequence, participants were asked to remember either only the faces (ignoring scenes) or only the scenes (ignoring faces). In a second round of testing, the participants were given prior information about which specific pictures in the sequence would be relevant and which to ignore. The participants' brain activity during the tasks was recorded using electroencephalograms (EEGs).

Previous research from this laboratory has indicated that the increase in in response to distractions occurs very soon (within 200 milliseconds) after the appears. Since there is only a very short amount of time allotted for the brain to identify an item as irrelevant and suppress any further neural processing, it was suggested that might benefit from prior knowledge of the impending distraction. However, results from the new study have proved that this is not the case.

Interestingly, the researchers found that later stages of neural processing (500-650 milliseconds after item presentation) do show signs of suppression, confirming that the "suppression deficit" is related to early stages of neural processing. The findings suggest that a working memory decline in older adults is indeed due to an inability to ignore distracting information, which furthermore cannot be improved with preparedness.

Explore further: Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

More information: Cortex is available online at www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Older brains make good use of 'useless' information

Jan 20, 2010

A new study has found promising evidence that the older brain's weakened ability to filter out irrelevant information may actually give aging adults a memory advantage over their younger counterparts.

Older adults remember the good times

Mar 24, 2010

Despite the aches and pains that occur in old age, many older adults maintain a positive outlook, remembering the positive experiences from their past. A new study, reported in the April 2010 issue of Elsevier's Cortex, reveal ...

Older adults not more distractible, research shows

Nov 04, 2007

Despite previous research suggesting that older adults are more distractible, new research shows they are no more distractible than younger adults when asked to focus their attention on their sense of sight or sound, or when ...

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.