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.

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

Take a trip through the brain (w/ Video)

July 30, 2015

A new imaging tool developed by Boston scientists could do for the brain what the telescope did for space exploration. In the first demonstration of how the technology works, published July 30 in the journal Cell, the researchers ...

Improved memory thanks to irregular sleep-wake patterns

July 31, 2015

If you've had a good night's sleep, you are mentally more alert and your memory works more reliably. During sleep, a part of our forebrain called the prefrontal cortex remains active. It ensures that memories and learned ...

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.