FAU Seeks Older Participants for Aging and Memory Study

Study, Jupiter Campus, Memory, Aging, Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Public Health, Older Participants, Memory Study, Aging Study, Learning

Researchers have been testing adults age 60 and older, primarily on FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter and they are seeking more participants for the study. (Photo by Alex Dolce)

By gisele galoustian | 8/16/2022

Florida Atlantic University researchers are conducting a study to improve public health by providing information about how human memory changes with age – and you can help. Gaining a better understanding of how aging influences the ability to form new associations in memory could lead to improved techniques for presenting new information to older people in a way that maximizes opportunities for learning.

Importantly, results from this study also may help researchers to distinguish normal aging from disease processes such as Alzheimer’s disease, which more dramatically impacts associative processes in memory. 

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study is investigating the effects of aging on the ability to bind together the different components of an event into an accurate memory representation for that event. The study has been designed to explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying age differences in the ability to associate people with their actions, and how those mechanisms may differ depending upon whether the events to be remembered and the conditions under which they are encountered lend themselves to strategic encoding.

The study is led by Alan W. Kersten, Ph.D., principal investigator and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science; and Julie L. Earles, Ph.D., co-investigator, associate dean of academic affairs and a professor of psychology, FAU Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. Kersten and Earles, members of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, have been testing  adults age 60 and older, primarily on FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter and they are seeking more participants for the study.

“We are looking at source memory, such as remembering whether a fact was mentioned by a friend, heard on the news, or seen on the internet. This type of memory typically exhibits greater age-related decline,” said Kersten. “Understanding the cognitive mechanisms underlying this decline is important to help older adults keep pace with the information age, where a wealth of information comes from sources of varying quality.” 

The primary focus of this study is on memory for the sources of actions – specifically, who did what. The ability to remember these sources of actions is critical to social functioning, for example, allowing one to attribute credit to people who provide help or to assign blame to people who commit negative actions. 

The researchers are examining similarities and differences in the cognitive mechanisms underlying young and older adults’ memory for the sources of actions and words. They have created a set of video stimuli used to study memory for the sources of actions, and are collecting baseline measures of source memory. They will use the data to explore changes in memory abilities associated with healthy aging, as well as with pathological conditions such as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are testing healthy young and older adults on their memory using a series of these brief video clips we have created, which depict actors performing actions or speaking verbal phrases,” said Kersten. “Study participants also are given other tests of executive and memory functioning, which allows us to examine the cognitive mechanisms underlying source memory for actions.” 

In prior research, Kersten and Earles have shown that the cognitive mechanisms underlying memory for the sources of actions may be different from the mechanisms underlying memory for the sources of verbal information. Source memory for verbal information has typically been associated with frontally-mediated executive functions, such as attentional control, working memory, and set shifting. In contrast, they found that memory for the sources of actions was associated with more basic associative memory mechanisms, likely mediated by medial temporal brain regions.

Adults 60 and older who are interested in participating in the study can email eventmemorylab@fau.edu for more information.