Junior moments

Young adults had more 'senior moments' than did older people in a new study

SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe it’s time to retire the “senior moment.” These lapses of memory during everyday life — losing your keys or your train of thought — are thought to be more common in older people.

Not so, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada report March 21 at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. Researcher Amanda Clark and her colleagues surveyed 30 adults younger than 25 and 24 people ages 60 to 80 to find out how many slips they make each day.

The researchers also devised two lab tests to study attention. One involved pushing a button every time a number appeared on a computer screen, unless the number was three. That test helps researchers determine how often the mind wanders away from a task. The second test involved pushing buttons arranged in a diamond shape in a particular sequence. The exercise mimics a routine, such as making coffee. Once the volunteers learned the routine, the researchers tried to throw participants off by introducing changes in the routine.

Younger people made more errors on the routine-mimicking test than older people did. Younger adults also reported having more “senior moments” in daily life.

The results from reported “senior moments” could mean that older people have developed strategies to protect themselves from lapses in memory and attention, such as keeping keys in the same place, Clark says. In the tests, older adults go slower than their younger counterparts, which may be a form of coping and may improve accuracy. But Clark is not ready to rename memory and attention lapses “junior moments” just yet. Older adults may not report lapses in daily life for fear of being diagnosed with dementia or other illness, or they may not be aware when they make these mistakes.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine