Why do older adults struggle to adapt to new environments?

Why do older adults struggle to adapt to new environments?
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Highlights

The elderly are often unable to adjust to new surroundings. This is partly due to the deterioration of a brain circuit that plays a key role in goal-directed learning, a new study conducted on mice has found.

Sydney: The elderly are often unable to adjust to new surroundings. This is partly due to the deterioration of a brain circuit that plays a key role in goal-directed learning, a new study conducted on mice has found.

The results revealed that the faulty activation of this brain circuit mixes both the new and old learning in the elderly mice, thus causing impairment in their ability to select the most appropriate action in response to a changing environment that leads to confusion.

"Flexibility issues in ageing have long been described in other navigation and spatial memory tasks. Here we describe a similar flexibility problem but applied to goal-directed action, which of course has more detrimental consequences for everyday life and potentially compromises survival," said J. Bertran-Gonzalez of the University of Queensland in Australia.

This flexibility problem could constitute a first step towards major motivational decline and, in some cases, seed further cognitive conditions and dementia, the researchers noted in the paper published in the journal Neuron.

The team found that the ability to make choices between distinct courses of action depends on a brain region called the striatum, which is located in the forebrain and associated with planning and decision-making.

However, it has not been clear whether the age-related decline in striatal function impairs initial goal-directed learning per se or simply prevents the updating of this learning in face of new environmental demands.

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