New test shows emotional memory; possible detection of Alzheimer's risk

Older adults who tend to remember positive information often do worse on memory tests, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine said it's possible a bias toward positive retention is a way to compensate for memory loss.

“It's possible that selectively remembering positive information may be related to changes in the brain network's supporting memory, emotional valence and reward value,” said Michael Yassa, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology, behavior and neurology.

He and his colleagues designed a test where 32 adults with an average age of 75 listened to a story. Afterward, the seniors were asked to recite details, and then asked again 20 minutes later and a week later.

“Low-performing” older adults were more likely to remember positive information. High-performing older adults could recall more from neutral stories while retaining less-positive details, researchers said.

None of the adults had memory problems severe enough for a clinical diagnosis, they said, but their Emotional Logical Memory Test may show subtle changes in emotional memory abilities. This could wind up giving providers another tool in detection of Alzheimer's disease susceptibility.

Results appeared in the August edition of Learning & Memory.