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UC Researching Into Severe Loss of Memory

UC Researching Into Severe Loss of Memory

May 8, 2013

Severe loss of everyday memory associated with brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases substantially impacts quality of life and is a major health issue in New Zealand.

The incidence of aging-related memory loss is a particular concern because the current 12 percent of people over 65 will burgeon to 25 percent within 30 years.

A University of Canterbury (UC) psychology researcher Dr Bruce Harland is seeking to identify whether these losses can be minimised or reversed.

``This is an important goal in neuroscience today. We want to sustain good health and wellbeing in our older population. Previous research in our laboratory was the first to demonstrate recovery of impaired memory in an animal model of injury to one part of the brain’s circuitry that enables the acquisition of everyday memory.

``This recovery was achieved using a non-pharmacological treatment, in which brain-injured rats exposed to a safe, but stimulating and varied “enriched environment” showed substantial improvement in memory. Brain-injured rats, living in standard conditions, showed only persisting impairments.

``My research, supervised by Professor John Dalrymple-Alford and Dr David Collings, was part of collaboration between two New Zealand, one United Kingdom, one US and three French research centres and was supported by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

``Our goal was to discover some of the neurobiological changes that accompany this rescued memory and provide a platform to establish effective treatments for humans with memory failure.

``My research showed that damage to one part of the memory circuit, a brain region called the anterior thalamus, resulted in a reduction of the structural complexity of brain cells in another memory region, called the hippocampus.

``Rescue of memory performance associated with stimulation was accompanied by a reversal of those structural changes. This finding suggests that memory loss associated with damage to one memory-related brain region may be alleviated by a drug treatment or therapy that targets a different part of the distributed memory system,’’ Harland says.

The study suggests that a treatment that combines social stimulation with opportunities for cognitive stimulation may help people with poor memory due to brain impairment.

Such factors may be helpful to promote better health in memory-impaired older people and initial studies are currently in progress to test this hypothesis, Harland says.


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