Young people are far more forgetful than their elders, even those suffering from Alzheimer?s disease, according to researchers at Novato?s Buck Institute who said they were astonished by the finding.

But what saves the young ? people in their 20s, 30s and 40s ? from senility is flexibility of the brain, enabling them to create new memories with equal speed, offsetting their memory losses, the researchers said.

?When you?re young you are just sopping up new information,? said Dale Bredesen, leader of the Buck research group exploring the brain tissue mechanisms of Alzheimer?s, an incurable degenerative disease that afflicts more than 5 million Americans.

Likening the brain to a car, Bredesen said, young minds run like a Ferrari, effortlessly shifting between making and breaking memories.

In older people, the brain slows in both directions, he said, and in those with Alzheimer?s it gets ?stuck in reverse,? obliterating the balance between forgetting and remembering.

The Buck Institute?s latest study, co-authored by Bredesen and Veronica Galvan, was published last week in the Journal of Alzheimer?s Disease.

The independent nonprofit institute is seeking ways to disconnect the mechanism that throws memory-making into reverse, a possible treatment for Alzheimer?s.

?We?re onto an interesting development,? said Bredesen, a physician who is Buck?s chief executive officer.

It would take three to five years for any formulation to become cleared as an Alzheimer?s therapy, he said.

Alzheimer?s results in memory loss and dementia, reducing a person?s ability to carry out daily activities and costing the nation $148 billion a year.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at