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Scientists believe age-related memory loss can be reversed

September 3, 2013

Slight lapses in memory are often seen as one of the hallmarks of aging, and sometimes older adults may be concerned that these episodes represent the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease, but new findings should come as a bit of a relief. Researchers from Columbia University say they have identified a gene related to memory loss and Alzheimer's that they believe can be used to reverse age-related decline in memory.

Protein holds the key
The findings, which were published recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine, are based on an extensive analysis of eight brains from Columbia's New York Brain Bank. Specifically, researchers were interested in two areas of the hippocampus: the dentate gyrus, which is not affected by Alzheimer's, and the entorhinal cortex, which is significantly impacted by the disease. They found that a handful of genes in the dentate gyrus acted differently as the brain got older, but one in particular - known as RbAp48 - considerably decreased in activity. After studying 10 more brains, the trend held true. To help confirm their suspicions, researchers then engineered mice with lower levels of the protein and found that younger subjects had memory similar to mice four years older than them.

"With RbAp48, we were able to reverse age-related memory loss in the mice," Columbia's Dr. Eric Kandel told Reuters. "Unlike in Alzheimer's, there is no significant cell death in age-related memory loss, which gives us hope it can be prevented or reversed."

Lifestyle changes can help
Although the results could provide a potential path toward improving memory in older adults, there are some small tweaks to senior living that aging adults can make now that may have an impact later. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the best ways to maintain one's mental acuity is to stay socially active. Social isolation can lead to depression and higher stress levels, both of which can negatively impact cognitive abilities. 

A smart diet is not only an important part of healthy aging because it improves physical well-being, but it can also maintain mental health. Specifically low-fat protein sources, fish and whole grains play an essential role in maintaining a sharp memory, the Mayo Clinic notes.