Why It's Harder To Learn As You Get Older

It may be the ability to filter and eliminate old information — rather than take in the new stuff — that makes it harder to learn as we age, scientists report:

“‘When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories,” said Joe Z. Tsien, a neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia. It’s that critical weakening that appears hampered in the older brain, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports.

Neurons in young people’s brains are able to “talk” to one another a fraction of a second longer and make stronger bonds with each other, optimising learning and memory.

When Tsien and his colleagues examined young mice genetically modified to have brains that mimic adults’, they were surprised at what they found. The rodents were still good at making strong connections and short-term memories, but had an impaired ability to weaken existing connections, and were less able to make new long-term memories as a result. This process is called information sculpting, and adult brains don’t appear to be very good at it.

‘If you only make synapses stronger and never get rid of the noise or less useful information, then it’s a problem,” said Tsien. The relentless onslaught of information and experiences our brains experience necessitates some selective whittling. Insufficient sculpting, at least in Tsien’s mice, meant a reduced ability to remember things short-term and long-term.” (Read more here.)

I’m no neuroscientist, but I find myself wondering whether reducing that “onslaught of information and experiences” as we get older might compensate for the ageing brain’s declining ability to filter out stimuli on a neural level.

How about you—do you find that you seek out less external stimulation now than when you were younger?

NOW READ: Why Arguing Is The Best Way To Learn

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