Aging brain gets stuck in time, researchers show

March 14, 2012 By Bill Hathaway, Yale University

The aging brain loses its ability to recognize when it is time to move on to a new task, explaining why the elderly have difficulty multi-tasking, Yale University researchers report.

“The aged seems to get lost in transition,” said Mark Laubach, associate professor at the John B. Pierce Laboratory and the Yale School of Medicine, and senior author of a study that appears in the March 14 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Laubach’s team was studying the impact of aging on working memory, the type of memory that allows you to recall that dinner is in the oven when you are talking on the phone. The researchers examined brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of young and older rats that is related to spatial working memory — the type of memory that allows you to recall, for example, that mashed potatoes are on the stove and the turkey is in the oven

Based on previous studies, they expected that it would be spatial memory most affected by aging. Instead, the Yale team found that the aged brain seems to lose its ability to respond to cues that indicate when it is time to move on to a new task.

This ability to transition between tasks is critical for many daily activities, such as cooking dinner or handling situations that can arise in the workplace. The brain’s failure to monitor the timing of actions leads people to forget to turn off a burner on the stove while setting the table.

The research team found that neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex of older rats reacted more slowly to signals indicating that reward was available. Conversely, these signals immediately triggered a response in younger rats.

“Neurons in older rats fired fewer spikes in response to reward-predictive cues. The animals failed to respond immediately to the cues. They seemed to be stuck in time,” Laubach said.

Researchers hope that by understanding the mechanisms of , scientists might one day be able to slow or perhaps eliminate deterioration of these brain functions over a lifespan, Laubach said.

Other Yale researchers involved in the study are Marcelo S. Caetano, Nicole K. Horst, Linda Harenberg, Benjaminine Liu, and Amy F.T. Arnsten.

Explore further: Researchers show how memory is lost -- and found

Related Stories

Researchers show how memory is lost -- and found

July 27, 2011
Yale University researchers can't tell you where you left your car keys- but they can tell you why you can't find them.

A little exercise may protect the aging brain from memory loss following infection

August 9, 2011
A small amount of exercise shields older animals from memory loss following a bacterial infection, according to a study in the August 10 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest moderate exercise may lead ...

Have we met before? Scientists show why the brain has the answer

August 4, 2011
The research, led by Dr Clea Warburton and Dr Gareth Barker in the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, has investigated why we can recognise faces much better if ...

Shedding light on memory deficits in schizophrenic patients and healthy aged subjects

February 23, 2012
Working memory, which consists in the short-term retention and processing of information, depends on specific regions of the brain working correctly. This faculty tends to deteriorate in patients with schizophrenia, as it ...

Drug reverses aging-associated changes in brain cells

December 7, 2011
Drugs that affect the levels of an important brain protein involved in learning and memory reverse cellular changes in the brain seen during aging, according to an animal study in the December 7 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. ...

Regulation of attention and concentration in brain unravelled

August 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- The prefrontal cortex of the brain is involved in memory processes and the ability to concentrate attentively. Neuroscientists from VU University Amsterdam have shown how and where this occurs in the prefrontal ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

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.