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Why aging makes us forgetful

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2012 - Winter


Anyone who has searched for missing bifocals only to find them in the crisper drawer can find an explanation—and some hope—in a study from Yale researchers about the battle against age-related memory loss. Amy F.T. Arnsten, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and of psychology, reported in the July 27 issue of Nature that the neural networks of middle-aged and older brains are weaker and slower than those of younger brains.

Arnsten’s study focused on age-related changes in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area responsible for abstract thought and reason as well as information recall (Why did I come upstairs?) in the absence of visual cues. As we age, the PFC accumulates excessive levels of a signaling molecule called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (CAMP), which can weaken prefrontal neuronal firing and may make these circuits more vulnerable to neurodegeneration.

The good news is that inhibiting CAMP with guanfacine, an FDA-approved hypertension medication, can combat the deterioration of neural networks.