Dementia patients reveal how we construct a picture of the future

(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.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Patients with amnesia 'live in the present'

Jan 16, 2007

Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, have shown that people with damage to the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays a crucial role in learning and memory, not only ...

When the zebra loses its stripes

Dec 20, 2010

The capacity to remember that a zebra has stripes, or that a giraffe is a four-legged mammal, is known as semantic memory. It allows us to assign meaning to words and to recall general knowledge and concepts that we have ...

Brain size may predict risk for early Alzheimer's disease

Dec 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

Emotional adjustment following traumatic brain injury

22 hours ago

Life after a traumatic brain injury resulting from a car accident, a bad fall or a neurodegenerative disease changes a person forever. But the injury doesn't solely affect the survivor – the lives of their spouse or partner ...

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

Oct 22, 2014

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

User comments