Thursday, December 29, 2011

Senior moment - or just mulling a response?

Dec. 29, 2011
By Linda Carroll

Seniors may be just as mentally agile as younger people. The reason their thinking appears sluggish is they mull things over longer, a new study shows.

Researchers have found that when people aged 60 and older are asked to make quick decisions, they respond as slowly as young children. And both groups react much more slowly than young adults, according to the study published in Child Development.

The slow response times in children are the sign of brains that are still maturing, said Roger Ratcliff, a study co-author and professor of behavioral and social sciences at Ohio State University. But the apparent sluggish thinking in the elderly may simply be the result of seniors emphasizing accuracy over speed when they deliberate.


Of course, in some cases, early dementia or the effects of medication may be the cause of slowing mental agility, but in healthy seniors, slow reaction times among the elderly can often be improved, Ratcliff said. In another set of experiments, he and his colleagues coached older volunteers to obsess less about accuracy and to focus more on speed. In the end, his seniors were able to react just as quickly as college students.

Ratcliff suspects that other age related deficits, such as declining memories, make seniors less sure of themselves and that makes them want to deliberate longer so they won’t make mistakes.

“Older people don’t want to make errors, so what they do is adopt a more conservative decision criteria and that slows them down,” he explained.


Also, older people have had time to discover that their first reaction is not always the best.


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