Researchers have found that high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain can be used to show some of the underlying causes of differences in memory proficiency between older and younger adults. The study involved 20 young adults (ages 18 to 31) and 20 cognitively healthy older adults (ages 64 to 89). The participants were asked to perform two kinds of tasks while undergoing fMRI scanning — an object memory task and a location memory task. Because fMRI looks at the dynamics of blood flow in the brain, investigators were able to determine which parts of the brain the subjects were using for each activity. In the first task, participants viewed pictures of everyday objects and were then asked to distinguish them from new pictures. The second task was nearly the same but required subjects to determine whether the location of objects had been altered. The researchers found that older adults’ struggles in the first task were linked to a loss of signaling in a part of the brain called the anterolateral entorhinal cortex. This area is already known to mediate communication between the hippocampus, where information is first encoded, and the rest of the neocortex, which plays a role in long-term storage.
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