Do you have a perfect memory? Doubtful. In fact, a process of forming new memories and forgetting old ones continually takes place in our brains. Yes, of course - it's the perfect excuse for the next time you forget your wife's birthday. But, it also sheds some quite interesting light on Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research recently discovered a surprising correlation between Alzheimer's patients and young, healthy individuals without AD. Both groups experience a constant process of forgetting. The young actually forget events much more frequently and rapidly than Alzheimer's patients. But, they also form new memories simultaneously. People with Alzheimer's appear to be stuck in the forgetting mode.
The brain is in a constant process of cleaning out old, inconsequential memories to make way for new memories. There's no need for you to remember what you ate for breakfast last Thursday. But, there is that issue about your wife's birthday. The researchers now believe there is a biochemical "switch" that controls the making and breaking of memories. They believe Alzheimer's patients' brains become less malleable, and this switch becomes stuck in the mode of constantly breaking memories.
"Young brains operate like Ferraris - shifting between forward and reverse, making and breaking memories with a facility that surpasses that of older brains, which are less plastic," said Dale Bredesen, MD, Buck Institute faculty member and leader of the research group. "We believe that in aging brains, AD occurs when the 'molecular shifting switch' gets stuck in the reverse position, throwing the balance of making and breaking memories seriously off kilter."
Research continues into ways to disrupt this process of continual forgetting. Previous research, with mice, has been quite promising in overcoming the impact of Alzheimer's.
One last note - did you remember to write down your wife's birthday?To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about Alzheimer's, including resource links, see this from the Alzheimer's Association.