Study: The elderly are more easily distracted

When it comes to driving and other daily tasks that involve physical activity, older adults are more likely to get distracted than younger people, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

A recent study was conducted involving 19 adults ages 65-86 and 31 younger adults ages 18-28 who were asked to squeeze a “handgrip device” while performing a short-term memory task.

A visual display provided real-time feedback on their grip while also showing blue and red-colored bars to test their memory and create distractions.

In the memory display, participants were shown 3 red bars alone or 3 red bars surrounded by blue bars and were asked to remember the orientation of only the red bars. Participants were instructed to release the hand grip device and indicate if any of the red bars changed orientation. (UCR/Zhang lab)

“We found that under high physical effort older adults were less likely to both ignore the distracting information and focus on the task-relevant information,” said UCR graduate student Lilian Azer. “Our results suggest that older adults might have heightened distractibility.”

By 2030, older Americans will make up 21% of the population, up from 15% in 2018. By 2060, nearly 25% of Americans will be 65 years and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, confirms what might seem obvious to many of us – that a world filled with distractions gets more difficult to navigate as we age.

“As we engage in these physical activities, very often we simultaneously engage in cognitive tasks where distractors – a billboard or a car sales commercial on the radio – may be present,” Azer said. “Inhibitory control may suffer during these concurrent tasks, making it more difficult, especially for older adults, to ignore the distractors and focus on task-relevant information.”

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