Scientists improve memory in older adults

Scientists have managed to overcome age-related forgetfulness and boost older adults’ performance in memory tests to that of healthy younger adults.

The team, from Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and the University of Toronto’s Psychology Department, has found evidence that older adults can eliminate forgetfulness using a ‘distraction learning strategy’.

It sounds counter-productive, but evidence has shown that older brains are good at processing information in their surrounding environment, without conscious effort, to boost memory performance.

In three separate experiments healthy younger adults, aged 17 to 27, and healthy older adults, aged 60 to 78, were asked to study a list of words. They were asked to recall the list after a short delay and then again 15 minutes later in a surprise test.

During the delay period participants were asked to perform simple attention tasks on pictures. While they were undertaking this activity half of the words they had studied were flashed up on the screen as distracters. Although this had no effect on the memory performance of the younger adults, it boosted the older adults’ memory for those words by 30 per cent.

It might be possible to replicate these findings in the everyday lives of older adults by running a stream of information across the bottom of the television screen or a tablet computer. This could include reminders to perform certain tasks, such as making a phone call or taking medication.

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