While people tend to get forgetful as they grow older, a new study has found that they can eliminate forgetfulness and be as sharp as younger adults when undertaking memory tests.
Scientists at Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and the University of Toronto's Psychology Department 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," Renee Biss, lead investigator and PhD student said.
"In our study we asked whether distraction can be used to foster memory-boosting rehearsal for older adults. The answer is yes!" she said.
Lynn Hasher, senior scientist on the study and a leading authority in attention and inhibitory functioning in younger and older adults said "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.".
"Poor regulation of attention by older adults may actually have some benefits for memory," Hasher said.
The findings 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.
The findings are published online in Psychological Science.