Older adults can eliminate forgetfulness and perform as well as younger adults on memory tests by using distraction learning strategy, say researchers in a new study. Distraction as a memory and learning tool can be used to foster memory-boosting in seniors, according to a new study from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The study is published in the journal, Psychological Science. Notice how some scientists as well as mainstream media sources and some businesses don't talk directly to people over a certain age? Instead they use generic "grandma" when referring to anyone over a certain age. They don't even address males of that age. Imagine if they addressed older men as "old-timer," pops, "the old man," or gramps?
Then why address older women in general as grandma instead of mature adults? In the new study from the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, researchers make older adults less forgetful in memory tests using distraction. The new study's finding could impact how older adults remember appointments and manage busy daily schedules. How about learning new skills or how to navigate from home to other destinations in addition to remembering appointments and schedules or paying those bills on time?
Scientists at Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care, Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute (RRI), and the University of Toronto's Psychology Department have found compelling evidence that older adults can eliminate forgetfulness and perform as well as younger adults on memory tests. Researchers used a distraction learning strategy to help older adults overcome age-related forgetting and boost their performance to that of younger adults.
Older brains are adept at processing information in the environment with conscious effort to aid memory performance
Distraction learning sounds like an oxymoron, but a growing body of science is showing that older brains are adept at processing irrelevant and relevant information in the environment, without conscious effort, to aid memory performance. "Older brains may be be doing something very adaptive with distraction to compensate for weakening memory," said Renée Biss, lead investigator and PhD student, according to the February 21, 2013 news release, Scientists make older adults less forgetful in memory tests. "In our study we asked whether distraction can be used to foster memory-boosting rehearsal for older adults. The answer is yes."
"To eliminate age-related forgetfulness across three consecutive memory experiments and help older adults perform like younger adults is dramatic and to our knowledge a totally unique finding," said Lynn Hasher, senior scientist on the study and a leading authority in attention and inhibitory functioning in younger and older adults, according to the news release. "Poor regulation of attention by older adults may actually have some benefits for memory."
The findings, published online February 20, 2013 in the journal Psychological Science, ahead of print publication, have intriguing implications for designing learning strategies for the mature, older student and equipping senior-housing with relevant visual distraction cues throughout the living environment that would serve as rehearsal opportunities to remember things like an upcoming appointment or medications to take, even if people aren't consciously paying attention to the cues.
In three experiments, healthy younger adults recruited from the University of Toronto (aged 17– 27) and healthy older adults from the community (aged 60 – 78) were asked to study and recall a list of words after a short delay and again, on a surprise test, after a 15-minute delay. During the delay period, half of the studied words occurred again as distraction while people were doing a very simple attention task on pictures. Although repeating words as distracters had no impact on the memory performance of young adults, it boosted older adults' memory for those words by 30% relative to words that had not repeated as distraction.
"Our findings point to exciting possibilities for using strategically-placed relevant distraction as memory aids for older adults – whether it's in classroom, at home or in a long term care environment," said Biss in the news release. While older adults are watching television or playing a game on a tablet, boosting memory for goals (such as remembering to make a phone call or send a holiday card) could be accomplished by something as simple as running a stream of target information across the bottom of their tablet or TV.
Should Grandma join Facebook? That's how researchers address older women in new study on what gives people a cognitive boost after age 65
Preliminary research findings suggest that learning to use Facebook may help give adults older than 65 a cognitive boost. The new study, conducted by University of Arizona (UA) graduate student Jannelle Wohltmann, shows that seniors who learned to use Facebook saw improvements in their ability to continuously monitor and quickly add or delete the contents of their working memory. The findings were presented at the International Neuropsychological Society Annual Meeting that took place from February 6 - 9, 2013 in Hawaii. See the site of the, 41st Annual Meeting-Hawaii - International Neuropsychological Society.
A grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada supported the study. Baycrest Health Sciences is a global leader in aging and brain health. Fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest is among the world's most respected academic health sciences centers focused on the needs of the aging population.
For older adults looking to sharpen their mental abilities, it might be time to log on to Facebook
Preliminary research findings from the University of Arizona suggest that men and women older than 65 who learn to use Facebook could see a boost in cognitive function. Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student in the University of Arizona (UA) department of psychology, set out to see whether teaching older adults to use the popular social networking site could help improve their cognitive performance and make them feel more socially connected.
Her preliminary findings, which she shared this month at the International Neuropsychological Society Annual Meeting in Hawaii, show that older adults, after learning to use Facebook, performed about 25 percent better on tasks designed to measure their ability to continuously monitor and to quickly add or delete the contents of their working memory – a function known in the psychology world as "updating."
Wohltmann, whose research is ongoing as part of her dissertation work, facilitated Facebook training for 14 older adults who had either never used the site or used it less than once a month. They were instructed to become Facebook friends only with those in their training group and were asked to post on the site at least once a day.
A second group of 14 non-Facebook using seniors instead was taught to use an online diary site, Penzu.com, in which entries are kept private, with no social sharing component. They were asked to make at least one entry a day, of no more than three to five sentences to emulate the shortness of messages that Facebook users typically post.
The study's third group of 14 was told they were on a "wait-list" for Facebook training, which they never actually completed
Prior to learning any new technologies, study participants, who ranged in age from 68 to 91, completed a series of questionnaires and neuropsychological tests measuring social variables, such as their levels loneliness and social support, as well as their cognitive abilities. The assessments were done again at the end of the study, eight weeks later.
In the follow-ups, those who had learned to use Facebook performed about 25 percent better than they did at the start of the study on tasks designed to measure their mental updating abilities. Participants in the other groups saw no significant change in performance.
Wohltmann conducted the study with help from her research adviser Betty Glisky, professor and head of the department of psychology, and a team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants. It was based on existing evidence about how learning new tasks can help older adults with overall cognitive function, as well as research suggesting a possible link between social connectedness and cognitive performance.
"The idea evolved from two bodies of research," she said in the February 21, 2013 news release, Should grandma join Facebook? It may give her a cognitive boost, study finds. "One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It's kind of this 'use it or lose it' hypothesis."
"There's also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age," she said in the news release. In Wohltmann's research, further analysis is needed to determine whether using Facebook made participants feel less lonely or more socially connected, she explained in the news release.
Further analysis is needed to determine whether, or by how much, Facebook's social aspect contributed to improvements in cognitive performance
Wohltmann suspects that the complex nature of the Facebook interface, compared to the online diary site, was largely responsible for Facebook users' improved performance. "The Facebook interface is actually quite complex. The big difference between the online diary and Facebook is that when you create a diary entry, you create the entry, you save it and that's all you see, versus if you're on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted," she said in the news release.
"You're seeing this new information coming in, and you need to focus on the new information and get rid of the old information, or keep it in mind if you want to go back and reference it later, so you have to constantly update what's there in your attention," she said in the news release. Participants in the study, who had an average age of 79, represent a demographic whose social media behavior has not been closely examined.
"Facebook is obviously a huge phenomenon in our culture," Wohltmann said. "There's starting to be more research coming out about how younger adults use Facebook and online social networking, but we really don't know very much at all about older adults, and they actually are quite a large growing demographic on Facebook, so I think it's really important to do the research to find out."
One in three online seniors use a social networking site like Facebook, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project
Wohltmann says she also sees Facebook as a potential alternative to some online games marketed to seniors to help boost mental acuity. "Those games can boring after a while, and this might be a new activity for people to learn that's more interesting and keeps them socially engaged," she said, adding that it can also help older adults stay connected with grandchildren and other family and friends.
Yet, Wohltmann cautions it may not be for everyone. "One of the take-home messages could be that learning how to use Facebook is a way to build what we call cognitive reserve, to help protect against and stave off cognitive decline due to normal age-related changes in brain function. But there certainly are other ways to do this as well," she explained according to the news release.
"It's also important to understand and know about some of the aspects of Facebook that people have concerns about, like how to keep your profile secure," she explained in the news release. "So I wouldn't suggest to anyone to get out and get Granny online right away, unless you or somebody else can provide the proper education and support to that person, so that they can use it in a safe way."