advertisement
Home » News » Research Shows Older Adults More Alert in the Morning
Research Shows Older Adults More Alert in the Morning

Research Shows Older Adults More Alert in the Morning

A new study provides strong evidence of noticeable differences in brain function through the day for older adults.

Canadian researchers discovered older adults perform better on demanding cognitive tasks in the morning. Moreover, brain imaging shows that during this time of the day, elders also activate the same brain networks responsible for paying attention and suppressing distraction as younger adults

The study, as published in the journal Psychology and Aging, has yielded some of the strongest evidence yet that there are noticeable differences in brain function across the day for older adults.

“Time of day really does matter when testing older adults. This age group is more focused and better able to ignore distraction in the morning than in the afternoon,” said lead author John Anderson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences.

“Their improved cognitive performance in the morning correlated with greater activation of the brain’s attentional control regions — the rostral prefrontal and superior parietal cortex — similar to that of younger adults.”

Asked how his team’s findings may be useful to older adults in their daily activities, Anderson recommended that older adults try to schedule their most mentally challenging tasks for the morning time.

Those tasks could include doing taxes, taking a test (such as a driver’s license renewal), seeing a doctor about a new condition, or cooking an unfamiliar recipe.

In the study, 16 younger adults (aged 19 – 30) and 16 older adults (aged 60-82) participated in a series of memory tests during the afternoon from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.

The tests involved studying and recalling a series of picture and word combinations flashed on a computer screen. Irrelevant words linked to certain pictures and irrelevant pictures linked to certain words also flashed on the screen as a distraction.

During the testing, participants’ brains were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which allows researchers to detect with great precision which areas of the brain are activated.

Older adults were 10 percent more likely to pay attention to the distracting information than younger adults who were able to successfully focus and block this information.

The fMRI data confirmed that older adults showed substantially less engagement of the attentional control areas of the brain compared to younger adults.

Indeed, older adults tested in the afternoon were “idling” — showing activations in the default mode (a set of regions that come online primarily when a person is resting or thinking about nothing in particular) indicating that perhaps they were having great difficulty focusing. When a person is fully engaged with focusing, resting state activations are suppressed.

When 18 older adults were morning tested (8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.) they performed noticeably better, according to two separate behavioral measures of inhibitory control.

They attended to fewer distracting items than their peers tested at off-peak times of day, closing the age difference gap in performance with younger adults. Importantly, older adults tested in the morning activated the same brain areas young adults did to successfully ignore the distracting information.

This suggests that ‘when’ older adults are tested is important for both how they perform and what brain activity one should expert to see.

“Our research is consistent with previous science reports showing that at a time of day that matches circadian arousal patterns, older adults are able to resist distraction,” said Lynn Hasher, Ph.D, senior author on the paper.

Experts believe the findings should inform those who study cognitive function in older adults.

“Since older adults tend to be morning-type people, ignoring time of day when testing them on some tasks may create an inaccurate picture of age differences in brain function,” said Hasher, senior scientist at the University of Toronto.

Source: Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

 
Elderly woman working on computer in the morning photo by shutterstock.

Research Shows Older Adults More Alert in the Morning

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Research Shows Older Adults More Alert in the Morning. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/08/07/research-shows-older-adults-more-alert-in-the-morning/73289.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.