Scientists and physicians have been unable to explain why the human capacity for memory retention appears to fade or weaken with age, sometimes significantly.
Now, a new study suggests that the forgetfulness associated with getting older may be tied to changes in sleep patterns brought on by the aging process. It may not be the aging itself that harms memory retention, but the effect aging has on how we sleep.
What Effect Does Sleep Have On the Memory?
Recently, researchers from the University of California conducted a study the findings of which were published in the journal Neuron.
Essentially, scientists asked one group of about 20 young adults and another of around 30 older adults (people who were over the age of 60) to memorize 120-word pairs. Then, they tested the participants’ ability to recall these words the next day after a full night’s sleep.
The research team also observed the subject’s sleep patterns by using brain-wave monitoring equipment. Scientists have long known that sleep helps us “store” or “save” our memories from the waking life.
They assimilated this to sort of how a computer can save a digital file. If you forget to “save” the file before you close the program, it is lost. According to specialists, sleep functions a little like this “save” feature.
The problem, as the researchers discovered, is that the complex processes which allow the brain to save memories during sleep appear to become naturally eroded in the older human brain.
Basically, this “save” feature requires two different brain wave types to “meet” during sleep. According to the latest findings, older brains struggle to arrange this meeting.
Scientists also found, however, that certain electric therapies could assist these older brains. These might help with lining the two critical brain waves up. Reportedly, this suggests that an effective treatment for memory loss might become viable in the future.
More information on the University of California sleep and memory study is available in the research paper.
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