Knowledge and Memories Can Clutter Old Brains

Healthy older adults tend to crowd their brain with too many memories that consequently interfere with what they are trying to remember or do, according to a report in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science.

What to know:

  • While older and younger adults’ memories contain similar target features, the older adults’ memories contain more nontarget features and, thus, are cluttered with excessive information.

  • In older adults, an ongoing situation cues prior memories and can interfere with the retrieval of target information as well as other memory-dependent cognitive functions.

  • Earlier memories seem to carry more importance when it comes to decision-making in older adults.

  • Healthy older adults have more knowledge than their younger counterparts, but they tend to form associations with older, often irrelevant memories in something scientists refer to as “reduced cognitive control.”

  • Although memory response times may be slowed by the clutter, evidence suggests that older adults show preserved, and at times enhanced, creativity in problem-solving as a function of enriched memories.

This is a summary of the article “Cluttered memory representations shape cognition in old age,” published by Trends in Cognitive Sciences on February 11. The full article can be found on

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