Older adults remember the good times

Changes in brain connectivity with aging may enable older adults to remember positive events

Milan, Italy, 24 March 2010 - Despite the aches and pains that occur in old age, many older adults maintain a positive outlook, remembering the positive experiences from their past. A new study, reported in the April 2010 issue of Elsevier’s Cortex, reveals that older adults’ ability to remember the past through a positive lens is linked to the way in which the brain processes emotional content. In the older adult brain, there are strong connections between those regions that process emotions and those known to be important for successful formation of memories, particularly when processing positive information.

Dr Donna Rose Addis from the University of Auckland, together with a team of researchers supervised by Dr. Elizabeth A. Kensinger of Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA), asked young adults (ages 19-31) and older adults (ages 61-80) to view a series of photographs with positive and negative themes, such as a victorious skier or a wounded soldier. While participants viewed these images, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan recorded the brain activity across a number of different regions. When participants had completed the fMRI scan, they were asked to remember as many of the photographs as they could.

Analyses revealed that aging did not affect the connectivity among regions engaged during memory formation for negative photographs. However, age differences did arise during the creation of memories for positive photographs. In older adult brains, two regions that are linked to the processing of emotional content – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (a region located just behind the bridge of the nose) and the amygdala (a region embedded in the tissue between the ears) – were strongly connected to regions that are linked to memory formation. In young adults, there was not a strong connection between the emotion-processing regions and the memory-creation regions.

These findings suggest that older adults remember the good times well, because the brain regions that control the processing of emotions act in concert with those that control the processing of memory, when older adults experience positive events. Young adults lack these strong connections, making it harder for them to remember positive experiences over the long term.

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Notes to Editors:
The article is “There are age-related changes in neural connectivity during the encoding of positive, but not negative, information” by Donna R. Addis, Christina M. Leclerc, Keely A. Muscatell and Elizabeth A. Kensinger and appears in Cortex, Volume 46, Issue 4 (April 2010), published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact Elizabeth Kensinger, elizabeth.kensinger@bd.edu.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.uk. Cortex is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 35,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

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