WEDNESDAY, July 27, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Age-related memory problems occur due to declines in the neural networks of a certain area of the brain, but this problem may be reversible, a new study in animals suggests.
Yale University researchers found that the neural networks in the prefrontal cortex of older lab animals have weaker connections and fire less strongly than in younger animals.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher cognitive and executive functions, including working memory. Working memory, which is the basis for abstract thought and reasoning, enables humans to recall information such as where they left their car keys.
The researchers also found that certain compounds -- such as one used in a medication that has been approved for treating high blood pressure in adults -- helped improve prefrontal cortex neuronal firing rates in older animals, according to the report published July 27 in the journal Nature.
"Age-related cognitive deficits can have a serious impact on our lives in the 'information age' as people often need higher cognitive functions to meet even basic needs, such as paying bills or accessing medical care," study author Amy Arnsten, a professor of neurobiology and psychology and a member of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, said in a Yale news release. "These abilities are critical for maintaining demanding careers and being able to live independently as we grow older."
Researchers note that studies involving animals often fail to produce similar results or benefits in humans.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about age-related memory loss.