Lacking pace but not precision: Age‐related information processing changes in response to a dynamic attentional control task

Anna Torrens‐Burton, Claire J. Hanley, Rodger Wood, Nasreen Basoudan, Jade Eloise Norris, Emma Richards, Andrea Tales

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Abstract

Age‐related decline in information processing can have a substantial impact on activities such as driving. However, the assessment of these changes is often carried out using cognitive tasks that do not adequately represent the dynamic process of updating environmental stimuli. Equally, traditional tests are often static in their approach to task complexity, and do not assess difficulty within the bounds of an individual’s capability. To address these limitations, we used a more ecologically valid measure, the Swansea Test of Attentional Control (STAC), in which a threshold for information processing speed is established at a given level of accuracy. We aimed to delineate how older, compared to younger, adults varied in their performance of the task, while also assessing relationships between the task outcome and gender, general cognition (MoCA), perceived memory function (MFQ), cognitive reserve (NART), and aspects of mood (PHQ‐9, GAD‐7). The results indicate that older adults were significantly slower than younger adults but no less precise, irrespective of gender. Age was negatively correlated with the speed of task performance. Our measure of general cognition was positively correlated with the task speed threshold but not with age per se. Perceived memory function, cognitive reserve, and mood were not related to task performance. The findings indicate that while attentional control is less efficient in older adulthood, age alone is not a defining factor in relation to accuracy. In a real‐life context, general cognitive function, in conjunction with dynamic measures such as STAC, may represent a far more effective strategy for assessing the complex executive functions underlying driving ability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number390
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Sciences
Volume10
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Healthy ageing
  • Intra‐individual variability
  • Reaction time
  • Subjective memory

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