Tag Archives: memory

The Elderly Are Forgetful Because They Don’t Sleep Well

A study from UC Berkeley shows that the quality of sleep in older people is a lot worse than in younger, healthy people and that this prevents memories from being moved from short-term to long-term memory. The study was done on 18 people in their 20s and 15 people in their 70s: scientists made them memorize some new words, then measured their sleep statistics, and finally quizzed them in the morning while getting an fMRI. The quality of sleep in the elderly was 75% that of younger people, and their recall was 55%. (The summary doesn’t say, but hopefully the scientists calculated their statistics properly, and didn’t just discover that old people forget and, independently, that they also don’t sleep well.) The decline in sleep quality is correlated to age-related deterioration in the frontal lobe, which normally generates slow brain waves during sleep.


If lack of quality sleep is the cause of memory loss, then the issue might apply also to younger people who are also forgetful — perhaps because they don’t sleep enough or have sleep apnea. As for older people, there are ways to improve quality of sleep: pills, electrical stimulation of the brain, or, best of all: blueberries, vitamins and exercise. Also, it’s worth mentioning that in 2011, scientists at Stanford figured out that a protein in the blood caused forgetfulness in older mice.

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From UC Berkeley, via Slashdot

Blood Protein Causes Forgetfulness In Mice

Stanford University’s School of Medicine published details of a very interesting study: they hooked up two mice together, one old and one young, via their circulatory systems to see what would happen to their brains. Specifically, they were looking at one of the few areas where the adult brain can still make new neurons: a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, which probably helps us make new memories. The result was that when the young and old blood was mixed together, the old mouse started making a lot more neurons in the dentate gyrus (i.e., more and better memories) and the young mouse started making less.

The scientists being scientists weren’t satisfied just yet, so they tried figuring out what specifically in the blood caused the brain in the young mouse to act old and vice-versa. First, they figured out that there was no cell transfer between the mice (by making one of the mice glow green), which meant that the substance was in plasma. After looking at 66 different proteins, they found six that had higher levels in mice with old blood — whether they were plain old mice, or young mice with old blood. The one that was most significant is called eotaxin (aka CCL11), and another one is MCP-1 (aka CCL2).

Just to make sure, they injected young mice with eotaxin and they started acting old and forgetting stuff just like expected. So it looks like as the mice get older, they get increased levels of some proteins in blood that causes their brain to not work too good no more. The scientists are of course now trying to see if this has anything to do with people, and specifically with Alzheimer’s, but generally they’re just going to keep trying to find the Fountain of Youth.

Juan Ponce de León


Previously, we’ve seen that walking 3x a week improved memory in the elderly and increased brain mass in the hippocampus. The study’s abstract mentions this fact as well, so it’s interesting to wonder if maybe exercise keeps the memory-killing proteins at younger levels.

From Stanford University, via Nature, Popular Science and Neatorama

Blueberries, Vitamins and Walking Improve Memory In The Elderly

Everyone knows that as people age, their memory fades. This is due in part to the mind just ignoring more and more events as we get older, because they’re similar to ones that happened before: at some point, all your birthday parties end up blurring together. In part, it’s also due to the neurons in the brain degrading as they age, making it harder for it to store new memories. And it’s also due to the brain shrinking as it ages — less brain mass means less room to store memories.

Photo by Kate McCarthy


But three new studies showcased in a Healthier Talk article found some ways to fight the decline of memory:

  • Blueberries have been shown to improve memory, as well as mood and to reduce blood sugar levels
  • Shots of folate, B6 and B12 slowed the rate of brain shrinkage in people over 70 by 30%
  • Walking 3x a week actually increased brain mass in the hippocampus (where memories are stored), whereas doing nothing decreased it.

In other words, nothing beats exercise. Not even blueberries and B12.

From Healthier Talk, via Lifehacker