Recent neuroscience research has demonstrated commonalities between remembering past events and imagining future events. There is a dependence on shared cognitive processes and many of the same brain regions are involved in both remembering the past and imagining the future.
The authors of this paper review recent cognitive and neuroimaging studies that examine remembering the past and imagining the future in elderly adults. These studies document significant changes in the capacity of older adults to imagine future events. There appears to be a correlation with memory deficits in the same population. Specifically, older adults tend to remember the past and imagine the future with less episodic detail than younger adults.
These findings are in line with the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis of Schacter and Addis [Phil Trans R Soc B 2007;362:773-786], which holds that past and future events draw on similar information and rely on similar underlying processes. Episodic memory is thought to support the construction of future events by extracting and recombining stored information into a simulation of a novel event.
It appears that non-episodic factors also contribute to age-related changes in remembering the past and imagining the future. The authors discuss implications for everyday functioning in older adults.
Schacter DL, Gaesser B, Addis DR: Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future in the Elderly. Gerontology [Epub ahead of print, Sept. 13, 2012; doi: 10.1159/000342198].