Due to so many studies of the aging brain, it is generally believed that memory and cognitive functioning always decline with age. But a recent article on the Medical News Today website discusses a new finding that suggests certain types of memory brain processing don’t always decrease with age and may improve. The research published by Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience specifically targeted the area of associative memory.
Associative memory is a learning process that allows the brain to associate items or facts, such as “that woman’s name is Susan and she lives in Boston.” Our memories are updated when circumstances change, which is called “reversal learning.” Memory updating would occur if in the example above, Susan moved to Chicago. A core function of associate memory is that it allows a person to adapt to social situations, incorporating new or conflicting information when it’s added to a memory.
Emotional Reversal Learning
This particular study looked at brain activity in two groups of subjects (ages 19-35 and 61-78) and tested for reversal learning both with and without an emotional component (e.g. Susan’s husband died so she had to move). The study showed that during the emotional reversal learning, both young and old groups exhibited similar activity in the brain area that updated old emotional memory.
The exciting finding was that during the reversal learning not related to emotion, the older subject group showed greater brain activity in the areas that control attention than the younger group. The researchers concluded that the results may mean that the brain function supporting emotional memory updating is not significantly impacted by age.