Academic Minute
5:00 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Dr. Phillip Ko, Vanderbilt University - The Decline of Memory Resolution

The clarity of one's memories is referred to as memory resolution.

Dr. Phillip Ko, a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, is studying the sharpness of memory in order to better understand the aging of the brain, memory loss and diseases like Alzheimer's. 

Dr. Phillip Ko is a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University's Memory Disorders Research Lab. He received his PhD from Vanderbilt University in Cognitive Psychology and Vision Sciences and his research focuses on understanding the interaction between visual perception and long term memory in patients with healthy and diseased memory. Most recently, Dr. Ko was awarded the National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Aging to investigate visual working memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

About Dr. Ko

Dr. Phillip Ko - The Decline of Memory Resolution

Recognition is a memory process that determines if a person, place or thing that we’re sensing in the moment has been experienced before.  Memory resolution, or how well our memory matches our original experience, affects the accuracy of recognition.  It is a very important factor that has helped our lab understand how memory declines in Alzheimer’s disease and normal aging.

The decline of memory resolution reduces our ability to tell whether a car we’re looking at is the same one that we saw yesterday or just similar to the one that we saw yesterday.  This decline increases the chance of false recognition, a major problem in Alzheimer’s disease.  In one study, we found that patients at risk for Alzheimer’s show high rates of false recognition only a few minutes after viewing the original object.  Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s show these signs after only a matter of seconds.

Even healthy older adults are not immune to decline of memory resolution.  In another study, we showed a handful of colors to 60-somethings and 20-somethings and estimated how many colors they could remember for a few seconds.  Electroencephalography, or EEG, showed that older adults were remembering just as many colors as the younger adults during these seconds.  But after this short time had passed, older adults could not recognize as many colors as the younger adults.  In a few seconds, the memory resolution of a few colors had declined in the older adults, impairing their recognition.

There are scientific and clinical benefits to understanding memory resolution and the properties of its decline.  Not only would we learn more about how the brain manages memory-related behavior, but we could also develop simple and inexpensive tests to detect the early stages of dementia with high accuracy.

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