One of the greatest worries older adults harbor is that they will start to lose their marbles with age and gradually the person they once were will be a fading memory. And those “senior moments” when you can’t remember where you parked the car or the name of your high school prom date can cause concern among even the healthiest of oldish people.
But finally there is good news and scientific evidence to dispel concerns grown children may start expressing about mom or dad’s less than reliable memory. Forgetting some things in older age can be a sign that the brain, filled with years and years of information, has become extremely efficient at discarding extraneous data.
According to recent research from the University of Toronto, published in the journal Neuron, healthy, intelligent adults use memory to inform decision making and more trivial details are commonly forgotten, allowing more useful information to be stored.
Researchers suggest that forgetting irrelevant information or small details is important to help the brain focus on important memories that will help improve decision making. This is great news for middle aged or older adults who are getting flack from their grown children about forgetting where they put their glasses, again.
In other related studies, researchers observed new neuron growth the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, which appears to promote forgetting. The brain seems to work as hard at forgetting as it does at remembering. And as the world around us changes, more rapidly all the time, the brain must become better at prioritizing the information it stores for future reference. This may be why adults have very few memories from before the age of four; new, more useful information has taken it’s place.
So before giving grandma a hard time about forgetting where she put the grocery list, keep in mind that her brain is busying doing it’s job and making executive decisions about what information will best serve her in the present.
To read more about this memory research from U of T visit the school’s website here.