Memories can be better recalled when they are better stored


According to a new study, problems with processing everyday events in older people may be the result of age-related atrophy to a part of the brain called the medial temporal lobe (MTL).

This finding means that common memory problems may stem from an inability to segment daily life into distinct experiences.

Chunking together the day’s events

“When you think back on what you did yesterday, you don’t just press ‘play’ and watch a continuous stream of 24 hours,” explained psychological scientist Heather Bailey of Washington University in St. Louis, leader of the study. “Your brain naturally chunks the events in your day into discrete parts.”

Segmenting everyday life

For the study, older adults (some with Alzheimer’s) watched short movies of people doing everyday tasks. They were told to separate the movie into chunks by pressing a button when one activity ended and another began. Then they were asked to recall what happened. Additionally, the size of each person’s MTL was measured using an MRI.

MTL size was an indicator

“The other adults who showed atrophy in the MTL weren’t as good at remembering the everyday activities, and they weren’t as good at segmenting and chunking the events as they were happening,” Bailey noted. “MTL size accounted for a huge portion of the relationship that we saw between participants’ ability to segment and their memory for the events.”

Problem goes beyond recalling an experience

The problem with recall, then, is not just the ability to pull the memory out but in organizing and filing the memory away as well. This suggests that improvements could be made in memory recall if people are taught to better segment their experiences.

“Alzheimer’s disease attacks the MTL in the early stages of the disease,” said Bailey. “But even with MTL atrophy you may be able to train people to chunk better, which might help them to remember their everyday activities better, too.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science, MedicalNewsToday

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