Those pesky hard disks – 26th Januaray, 2014

Those pesky hard disks in our ageing brains

Those of us of a certain age will be only too well aware that one of the most frustrating things about growing old is our inability to sometimes recall names, dates facts etc with the same alacrity as we did in our formative years.

In particular, when name of someone famous or of someone we have known for most of our life doesn’t immediately spring to our lips, we start to worry whether we are experiencing the first signs of dementia.

A related problem is when we walk somewhere in our house with the express purpose of doing something, and having arrived, forgetting the reason we went thereIt even happens when I’m using my computer and I may be beavering away on something and then I suddenly break off, open a new ‘Google window’ to perform a new task, and then forget what it was I was going to do.

My God! I’m cracking up!…

When we are caught out in such ‘memory lapses’ many of us, (well me anyway), in recent years have resorted to the excuse that the ‘hard disks’ in our brain are getting full from decades of accumulating useless information. Just as the hard disks in our computers don’t work quiet as efficiently when they are nearly full, so it is with our poor, data-filled brains.

I well recall trying to explain this concept to Noo, whenever she chided me for mislaying such items as my spectacles or mobile phone ‘somewhere’ around the house.. When I managed to get through to her about my ‘hard disk’ philosophy, I was met with hysterics and mirthful incredulity.

After all – it was just a joke!

Or was it?

Incredible though it may sound, scientists now believe that older people do not decline mentally with age, it just takes them longer to recall facts because they have more information stored in their brains.

According to an article published in the Journal of Topics in Cognitive Science, researchers report that much like a computer struggles as the hard drive gets full up, so to do humans take longer to access information. They maintain that this slowing down it is not the same as cognitive decline.

One of the leading scientists said that the human brain works slower in old age, but only because older people have stored more information over time. The brains of older people do not get weak; on the contrary, they simply know more.

A cognitive test called ‘paired associated learning’ invited people to remember a pair of words that are unrelated. Studies showed that young people were better at this test, but scientists think that older people struggle to remember nonsense pairs – like ‘necktie’ and ‘cracker’ – because they have learned that they never go together.

It is postulated that older adults find ‘nonsense pairs’ harder to learn than young adults simply demonstrates older adults’ much better understanding of language.They have to make more of an effort to learn unrelated word pairs because, unlike the youngsters, they know a lot about which words don’t belong together.

Well who would have believed it?

My ‘Hard disk’ theory was right all along…. and

Much to my personal chagrin… I may not be suffering from ‘Mad Cows’ disease’ after all…

 

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