Most people know from experience that memories are more readily
and vividly recalled when there is a strong emotional component
attached to them. In fact, one of the functions of emotions is to
give significance to certain memories, to help ensure that important
things are not forgotten.
In the brain, structures that make up emotional circuits are closely
connected to the structures that are involved in forming memories.
When emotional brain circuits are activated by strong emotions such
as love or fear, they trigger a chemical response in the brain cells
that form memory, causing the connections between memory cells to
be strengthened. Of particular importance in this process is a component
of the emotional brain known as the amygdala.
The amygdala is connected to one of the key structures in memory
formation, the hippocampus.
While much is known about the role the hippocampus plays in memory,
very little is known about the role of the amygdala in the emotional
enhancement of memory in aging and dementia.
It is known that the amygdala is one of the first brain structures
to be damaged in Alzheimer's
Disease, although the effects of this damage on emotional memory
in Alzheimer's patients is unclear.
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This study is designed to clarify the role of the amygdala and other
emotional brain components in emotional memory, in both normal elderly
people and people with early Alzheimer's Disease. By doing so, we
hope to understand better the changes in memory that occur very
early in Alzheimer's Disease, as well as changes (if any) seen in
the normal aging process. To assess the effects of age on this system,
we will also evaluate a group of young people without memory problems