X-Message-Number: 12159
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 16:59:39 -0400
From: Jan Coetzee <>
Subject: Aging brain runs out of ``storage space''

Aging brain runs out of ``storage space''

NEW YORK, Jul 19 (Reuters Health) -- The human brain begins to run out
``storage space'' for new information after 45 years of age, according
to a report.
The study's author believes that age-related memory loss may be caused
by a lack
of space to store information, and not, as commonly believed, in a
ability to process information.

``We have a limited amount of space in our memory system,'' explains
researcher Dr. H. Lee
Swanson of the University of California, Riverside. His findings are
published in the July issue
of the journal Developmental Psychology.

According to conventional theory, age-related deterioration in the
brain's ability to process
information may cause gradual declines in memory function.

Swanson tested this theory in a series of experiments conducted in 778
healthy individuals
ranging in age from 6 to 76 years. In tests focusing on working-memory,
verbal recall and
visual/spatial tasks, subjects were asked to either recall information
learned in the recent past, or
to 'process' this information (i.e., by placing it into categories) as
part of the recall effort.

Contrary to theory, Swanson discovered that the subjects'
memory-processing ability was not
linked to their age.

However, performance involving simple recall -- a process linked to
information storage --
showed ``remarkably similar patterns'' regardless of the task performed.
Test scores suggest that
memory storage and retrieval improves steadily from childhood through to
early middle age, and
``peaks at approximately age 45,'' according to Swanson -- after which
it begins to decline.

In a statement issued by the American Psychological Association, Swanson
said his findings
support the notion that ''as we get older, we run out of places to store
new information.'' He notes
that the findings echo those of previous research, which has found that
``older adults suffer
capacity deficits across an array of memory measures.''

Swanson stresses that the amount of total memory storage capacity
``varies individually,''
meaning that declines may occur later in some persons than others.
Still, he believes that each of
us will begin to lose memory function after storage limitations reach a
``critical threshold'' at
some point in our adult lives.

SOURCE: Developmental Psychology 1999;35.

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