Dementia patients reveal how we construct a picture of the future

May 23, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Our ability to imagine and plan our future depends on brain regions that store general knowledge, new research shows.

Dr. Muireann Irish from Australia (NeuRA) found that who can no longer recall – for example, the names of famous people or popular songs – are also unable to imagine themselves in the future.

"We already know that if memory of past events is compromised, as is the case in Alzheimer's disease, then the ability to imagine future scenarios is also impaired,” says Dr. Irish.

"We have now discovered that damage to parts of the brain that store knowledge of facts and meanings can also produce the same effect," she says.

Thinking about the future is an important ability because it helps us to plan and anticipate the consequences of our actions.

"For example, a person with dementia who may leave the oven on, partly because they forget the appropriate action, but also because they cannot project forward in time to anticipate the dangerous consequences this might have," says Dr. Irish.

Dr. Irish and colleagues used MRI to study people with Alzheimer's disease (memories of past experiences are lost) as well as patients with semantic dementia who have lost the ability to remember facts (semantic memory) but have little problem remembering past experiences.

Surprisingly, she found that the semantic group was as impaired as the Alzheimer's group when imagining future events, even though their memory of past experiences was relatively intact.

"This is an important finding, as it points to multiple regions in the that are responsible for our ability to imagine and plan for the future," she says.

This research is published in the journal Brain.

Explore further: Brain starts shrinking nearly a decade before Alzheimer's appears

Related Stories

Brain size may predict risk for early Alzheimer's disease

December 21, 2011

New research suggests that, in people who don't currently have memory problems, those with smaller regions of the brain's cortex may be more likely to develop symptoms consistent with very early Alzheimer's disease. The study ...

Recommended for you

Neuroscientists illuminate role of autism-linked gene

May 25, 2016

A new study from MIT neuroscientists reveals that a gene mutation associated with autism plays a critical role in the formation and maturation of synapses—the connections that allow neurons to communicate with each other.

Teen brains facilitate recovery from traumatic memories

May 25, 2016

Unique connections in the adolescent brain make it possible to easily diminish fear memories and avoid anxiety later in life, according to a new study by Weill Cornell Medicine researchers. The findings may have important ...

Study identifies how brain connects memories across time

May 23, 2016

Using a miniature microscope that opens a window into the brain, UCLA neuroscientists have identified in mice how the brain links different memories over time. While aging weakens these connections, the team devised a way ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.