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Older folks may have memory issues because their brains are already full!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 21st, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The fact that many older people have a harder time remembering things not necessarily due to the onslaught of senility or dementia, scientists from Tübingen University in Germany say. The brains of the elderly are merely slower because they have stored up much more information.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The researchers say they believe the human brain works slower in old age as it has to process a lifetime of stored-up information to recall simple facts. This theory says that this proves that instead of being weaker, older brains are in fact more powerful.

Researchers used computers to study cognitive development in age. They programmed a computer to learn new words and commands on a daily basis by "reading," in the way that a human brain would.

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Cognitive tests conducted on computers which hadn't read much were comparable to the brains of a young adult. Those that read more were more like an elderly person's. While the "older" computer was certainly slower, researchers said, but only because its database had grown and it had to process more information.

The findings also explain why older people are often more forgetful.

"The human brain works slower in old age but only because we have stored more information over time. The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more," Dr. Michael Ramscar from the university said.

"Imagine someone who knows two people's birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly. Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can 'only' match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?"
 
In the study, researchers found that certain tests used to determine older people's mentality regularity favor the young.

On test, called "paired associated learning," people are asked to remember pairs of random objects.

The scientists say this test is more difficult for older people - as, over their lifetime, they have learned the two objects never go together and so struggle to remember them as a couple.

"The fact that older adults find nonsense pairs harder to learn than young adults simply demonstrates older adults' much better understanding of language," Professor Harald Baayen, who heads the group that conducted the research said.

"They have to make more of an effort to learn unrelated word pairs because, unlike the youngsters, they know a lot about which words don't belong together."

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