The idea that cognitive function declines in old age has been suggested by many studies. But a new study led by a Ryerson University researcher shows that this is not always the case. In the study, Dr. Lixia Yang of Ryerson University and her co-author, Ralf Krampe of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany, found that seniors were able to retain 50 per cent of concepts they learned almost a year ago.
"This finding was astonishing. We always assumed that seniors would have great difficulty in grasping new concepts and maintaining what they've learned. But our research demonstrates this is not always the case," Yang said.
47 seniors in their 70s and 80s completed a series of tests that measured three areas that normally decline with age: reasoning, processing speed and visual attention.
They then repeated the same tests eight months later in a follow-up study. For example, to test the older adults' visual attention, one test involved finding 'target' letters, like the letter 'D' with dots above and below, among other letters with similar patterns as fast as possible.
"This study suggests that seniors' minds are still sharp, and they can be productive members of the workplace, as long as they receive appropriate training," Yang said.
The study has been published in this month's issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.