Scientists at 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.
Scientists used a distraction learning strategy to help older adults overcome age-related forgetting and boost their performance to that of younger adults. 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. “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. “Poor regulation of attention by older adults may actually have some benefits for memory.”
The findings, published online in 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 the cues aren’t consciously paid attention to.