Why Does Motivation Decline With Age?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Jesus Bertran-Gonzalez,
Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research, Queensland Brain Institute
University of Queensland
Brisbane Australia

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: It has long been recognized that elderly people often show behavioural inflexibility, for example they may have difficulties in finding alternative routes to reach a previously known place in neighbourhoods that have changed, or they may find it difficult to remember new episodes in their life, as opposed to very old ones. The question that we wanted to address in this study is how this memory rigidity in old individuals affects their goal-directed performance, as this can directly impair their capacity to adjust their behaviour to new demands in the environment. Specifically, we wanted to investigate the changes in the brain that occur with normal ageing that have these negative effects on adaptation, and that can potentially keep old people from achieving their needs.

MedicalResearch.com:? What are the main findings?

Response: Our study shows for the first time that normal ageing affects the ability of animals to adapt goal-directed actions when changes in the environment occur. This deficit is produced by a specific malfunction of the thalamostriatal circuit regulating the activity of cholinergic interneurons in the striatum, which in turn impairs the normal activity of striatal projection neurons. These results contribute to our understanding of the neural changes that occur in the brain of normally aged individuals that can affect their capacity to flexibly adapt their behaviour.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: We believe this research is important because motivational decline in the aged population is very common yet often overlooked and confused with other age-related conditions. We think that it is of utmost importance that motivational decline is considered as a condition in its own right, so that strategies can be efficiently implemented early on to prevent motivational problems in the aged. Our study suggests that, in addition to extending the quality of life in the elderly, efficient restoration of motivational behaviours could in some cases reduce the risk of further cognitive decline and progression to dementia.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: There are two main courses of action that can be taken from this study.

First, we uncover a precise circuit in the brain that is at least in part directly responsible for these alterations, and this can provide critical information or future pharmacological interventions aimed at improving age-related motivational problems.

Second, if we are able to detect motivational decline early on, before more critical conditions happen, we will be able to design behavioural strategies that help older people maintain their capacity to adapt their behaviours, and thus prevent or delay further complications.


Aging-Related Dysfunction of Striatal Cholinergic Interneurons Produces Conflict in Action Selection

Miriam Matamales ,Zala Skrbis ,Robert J. Hatch,Bernard W. Balleine,Jürgen Götz Jesus Bertran-Gonzalez

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.03.006

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on April 25, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD