For the past several years I have seen a noticeable decline in my brain function. It has me running scared. My friends even joke that I am the perfect person to tell a secret to because I cannot remember what they have said. From my perspective…ITS NOT FUNNY! But today’s news brings me hope for the future.
Scientists from Riken-MIT are now using light to stimulate memories in mice with Alzheimer like diseases whose memories have eroded. According to their research it may be that impaired retrieval of memories may be at the root of the problem of memory loss rather than encoding or incomplete storage. It seems that the spines on brain cell dendrites are responsible for completing pathways with which to retrieve memories. By using light (optogenetics) to re-grow the missing or “lost” spines it has helped mice remember experiences that were once lost.
While fascinating it also brings up a host of interesting questions. For instance, if you can re-grow spines to have memories return can you also shorten them and take away painful memories? Or is there a way to identify and classify memories as “good” or “bad” and only bring back the “good” ones? What would life be like if we could only remember the “good” and does that change the concept of human nature as we know it and what might be the unintended consequences of living in such a manner? Do we need to have some “bad” memories as a kind of “preventative” measure that protects us against things that may bring us harm? And more importantly if you could make a laundry list of memories to keep and remove would you go ahead and have it done?
While the practical application of improving memory retrieval is far off in the future it does give hope to people like me who are concerned about the decline in their analytical and processing abilities. As like anything in science, one just hopes these improvements in our mental and physical health arrives before it is too late to make a difference for ourselves and our loved ones. As for me, I hope that there are powerful meds that are available soon for I am not sure that I would want someone fiddling around in my brain.