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Jul 21, 2014 01:23 AM EDT

Older people May Be More Likely To Have Their Memory Impaired By Environmental Distractions


Older people are more likely to have their memory and cognitive processes impaired by environmental distractions, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Rice University and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that older people are nearly twice as likely as their younger counterparts to have irrelevant memories intrude during memory recall and also showed twice as much slowing in cognitive processing in the presence of distracting information in the environment.

"Almost any type of memory test administered reveals a decline in memory from the age of 25 on," Randi Martin, co-author of the study and the Elma W. Schneider Professor of Psychology at Rice University, said in a statement. "However, this is the first study to convincingly demonstrate the impact of environmental interference on processing having a greater impact on older than younger adults."

For the study, researchers recruited 102 people between the ages of 18 and 32 and 60 people between the ages of 64 and 82 to participate in a series of memory and cognitive tasks.

For example, when the participants were tested on remembering lists of words, individuals in the young test group remembered words on the list with an average accuracy of 81 percent; in comparison, the old test group's accuracy was only 67 percent. When irrelevant words were introduced that were to be ignored, the young test group's accuracy dropped to 74 percent, but the accuracy of the old test group's performance dropped to 46 percent.

Martin said that the research will encourage further research of how the brain is affected by environmental distractions.

"From our perspective of studying neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to reorganize itself after traumatic injury or neurological disorders) and testing patients with brain damage, this research is very important," Martin said. "The tests used in this study are important tools in determining how the brain is affected by environmental interference, which is critical information in treating neurological disorders, including stroke and traumatic brain injuries."

The findings were recently published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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