Cognitive Aging

ARMLAdvances in medical research, and the growing new field of “geroscience,” have enabled us to understand the aging process better, and to live longer; however, despite progress made on the understanding of cellular changes and loss that accompany aging, little progress has been made in treating cognitive problems, most notably the progressive decline in memory function.

In most people, age-related memory troubles emerge in midlife and memory continues to weaken with advancing age. However, memory decline is not an inevitable consequence of aging.

An important first step has been the delineation of memory problems associated with normal aging and those associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast to neurodegenerative diseases, normal aging is not always associated with the loss of cells. The absence of neural degeneration has directed researchers to consider the possibility that age-related memory deficits may reflect more subtle changes in processes that alter synaptic connectivity, including changes in synaptic plasticity.

Research at the MBI

Within the MBI, several methods are being developed to distinguish biological markers of brain aging, which range from an examination of genes to brain imaging.

The association of biological markers with memory function has implications for understanding the basic mechanisms of how memory works, the relationship between aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and the development of practices designed to protect and improve normal brain function as we age. Much of this work is directed at neural modulators, reduction in oxidative stress and calcium homeostasis.

Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory Clinical Translational Research (CAM Center)

Led by director Ron A. Cohen, Ph.D., ABPP, ABCN, and assistant director Adam J. Woods, Ph.D. and supported by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, the CAM Center is dedicated to its mission to conduct cutting-edge interdisciplinary clinical neuroscience and translational research on age-associated cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning, factors that contribute to impairments and functional decline and future avenues for intervention.

Age-Related Memory Loss Program (ARML)

Led by director Thomas C. Foster, Ph.D., Evelyn F. McKnight chair for research on cognitive aging and memory, and supported by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, ARML focuses on the neuroscience of brain aging and memory decline aimed at discoveries that can be translated to new clinical assessment and intervention approaches for cognitive aging.

Brain Plasticity

Other new research initiatives being developed to thwart age-related memory loss include a better understanding of ways to enhance aging brain plasticity — the process of having our brain respond to injury or disease with the resultant generation of new brain cells and/or new synaptic connections within existing brain circuitries. Near-future clinical trials are planned that involve the use of cellular, molecular, and behavioral therapeutic approaches to keep the aging brain plastic, or nimble, and to be able to accommodate the cellular changes or losses that accompany normal or pathological aging.