Older People Less Apt to Recognize They’ve Made a Mistake

Richard C. Lewis wrote . . . . . . . . . .

The older you get, the less apt you may be to recognize that you’ve made an error.

In a new study, University of Iowa researchers devised a simple, computerized test to gauge how readily young adults and older adults realize when they’ve made a mistake.

Older adults performed just as well as younger adults in tests involving looking away from an object appearing on the screen. But younger adults acknowledged more often than older adults when they failed to look away from the object. And, older adults were more likely to be adamant that they did not made a mistake.

“The good news is older adults perform the tasks we assigned them just as well as younger adults, albeit more slowly,” says Jan Wessel, assistant professor in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the study’s corresponding author. “But we find there is this impaired ability in older adults to recognize an error when they’ve made one.”

The research offers new insight how older people perceive their decisions, and especially how they view their performance—whether judging their own ability to drive or how regularly they believe they’ve taken medications.

“Realizing fewer errors can have more severe consequences,” Wessel says, “because you can’t remedy an error that you don’t realize you’ve committed.”

Wessel’s team recruited 38 younger adults (average age of 22) and 39 older adults (average age of 68) to take a series of tests that involved looking away from a circle appearing in a box on one side of a computer screen. While the test was simple, younger adults couldn’t resist glancing at the circle before shifting their gaze about 20 percent of the time on average. That’s expected, Wessel says, as it’s human nature to focus on something new or unexpected, and the researchers wanted the participants to err.

After each failed instance, the participants were asked whether they had made an error. They then were asked “how sure” and used a sliding scale from “unsure” to “very sure” to determine how confident they were about whether they had made a mistake in the test.

The younger participants were correct in acknowledging when they had erred 75 percent of the time. The older test-takers were correct 63 percent of the time when asked whether they had erred. That means in more than one-third of instances, the older participants didn’t realize they had made a mistake.

Even more, the younger participants who made an error on the test were far less certain than the older participants that they were correct. In other words, the younger adults hedged more.

“It shows when the younger adults thought they were correct, but in fact had made an error, they still had some inkling that they might have erred,” says Wessel, who is affiliated with the Department of Neurology and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. “The older adults often have no idea at all that they were wrong.”

The researchers underscored these observations by measuring how much participants’ pupils dilated as they took the tests. In humans and most animals, pupils dilate when something unexpected occurs—triggered by surprise, fright, and other core emotions. It also happens when people think they’ve blundered, which is why researchers measured pupils in the experiments.

Researchers found younger adults’ pupils dilated when they thought they erred. This effect was reduced when they committed errors they did not recognize. In comparison, older adults showed a strong reduction of this pupil dilation after errors that they recognized and showed no dilation at all when they committed an error they did not recognize.

“That mirrors what we see in the behavioral observations,” Wessel says, “that more often they don’t know when they’ve made an error.”

The paper, “A blunted phasic autonomic response to errors indexes age-related deficits in error awareness,” was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Source : University of Iowa


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You Are Only as Old as You Think and Do

Could increasing your physical activity or feeling more in control of your life be the secret to staying young? Employing these simple strategies may help older adults feel younger and that, in turn, could help improve their cognitive abilities, longevity and overall quality of life, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Research suggests that a younger subjective age, or when people feel younger than their chronological age, is associated with a variety of positive outcomes in older individuals, including better memory performance, health and longevity,” said presenter Jennifer Bellingtier, PhD, of Friedrich Schiller University. “Our research suggests that subjective age changes on a daily basis and older adults feel significantly younger on days when they have a greater sense of control.”

Bellingtier and co-author Shevaun Neupert, PhD, of North Carolina State University, enlisted 116 older adults (ages 60 to 90) and 106 younger adults (ages 18 to 36) and had them complete surveys each day for nine days. Participants were asked to respond to a series of statements on the level of control they felt they had each day (e.g., “In the past 24 hours, I had quite a bit of influence on the degree to which I could be involved in activities,”) and were asked how old they felt that day.

The researchers found significant day-to-day variability in subjective age in both groups over the course of the study. They also found a significant association between perceived level of control each day and subjective age in the older adult group but not the younger group.

“Shaping the daily environment in ways that allow older adults to exercise more control could be a helpful strategy for maintaining a youthful spirit and overall well-being,” said Bellingtier.

“For example, some interventions could be formal, such as a regular meeting with a therapist to discuss ways to take control in situations where individuals can directly influence events, and how to respond to situations that they cannot control. Smartphone apps could be developed to deliver daily messages with suggestions for ways to enhance control that day and improve a person’s overall feeling of control,” said Bellingtier. An intervention could also be something as simple as giving nursing home residents the opportunity to make more choices in their daily lives so that they can exercise more control.

In addition to amping up perceived control, another strategy for maintaining a younger subjective age and enjoying the benefits that go with it may be as simple as increasing physical activity, according another study presented in the same session.

“Our results suggest that promoting a more active lifestyle may result in a more youthful subjective age,” said Matthew Hughes, PhD, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who presented the study.

Hughes and his colleagues recruited 59 adults in the Boston area between the ages of 35 and 69 who were not engaged in routine physical activity. All participants were given a FitBit fitness tracker and researchers monitored their daily step counts for five weeks. Individuals with greater increases in their step counts at the end of the study reported lower subjective ages, the researchers found.

While promising, the results are still preliminary, cautioned Hughes.

“As this was part of a pilot study, our sample size was small,” he said. “While the results suggest that walking may contribute to feeling younger, further research with a larger sample in a more controlled setting is needed to confirm.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Study: Older Adults Engaging in Physical Activities Have Lower Heart Disease Risk

Adults in their early 60s, who spend less time sitting and more time engaged in light to vigorous physical activity, benefit with healthier levels of heart and vessel disease markers, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

The results from increased physical activity were found to be particularly good among women.

Physical inactivity is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and premature death from cardiovascular disease. Physical activity’s protective effect is likely due in part to its impact on biomarkers in the blood that help predict atherosclerosis risk.

“The 60 to 64 age range represents an important transition between work and retirement, when lifestyle behaviors tend to change,” said Ahmed Elhakeem, Ph.D., study author and senior research associate in epidemiology at Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. “It may, therefore, be an opportunity to promote increased physical activity.

“In addition, cardiovascular disease risk is higher in older adults. It’s important to understand how activity might influence risk in this age group,” Elhakeem said. “We found it’s important to replace time spent sedentary with any intensity level of activity.”

Researchers studied more than 1,600 British volunteers, age 60 to 64, who wore heart rate and movement sensors for five days. The sensors revealed not only how much physical activity, in general, they were doing, but also how much light physical activity, such as slow walking, stretching, golfing or gardening, versus moderate-to-vigorous activity, such as brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, tennis, squash, lawn mowing or vacuuming.

Researchers analyzed participants’ blood levels for markers of cardiovascular disease, including inflammatory markers C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 (IL-6); endothelial markers, tissue-plasminogen activator (t-PA), the molecule E-Selectin (a cell adhesion molecule that plays an important part in inflammation); and cholesterol markers leptin and adiponectin.

“We focused on these atherosclerosis biomarkers as they are less studied and have been shown to predict risk of cardiovascular events and death,” Elhakeem said.

Researchers found:

  • Each additional 10-minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity was associated with leptin levels that were 3.7 percent lower in men and 6.6 percent lower in women.
  • Each additional 10-minutes spent sedentary was associated with 0.6 percent higher IL-6 levels in men and 1.4 percent higher IL-6 levels in women.
  • Each additional 10-minutes spent in light intensity activity was associated with around 0.8% lower t-PA levels in both men and women.
  • Less sedentary time and greater time in low-intensity activity were beneficially related to IL-6 and t-PA, regardless of time spent at higher intensity activity.
  • Those with better cardiorespiratory fitness (based on an oxygen uptake step test) also had a healthier biomarker profile, though this effect largely disappeared after controlling for related differences in body fat.
  • Total activity volume appeared related to these biomarkers independently of underlying cardiorespiratory fitness.
  • E-selectin was the only biomarker which showed no notable associations with physical activity and sedentary time (but was related to fitness levels).

Based on the study’s findings, physical activity might lower cardiovascular disease risk by improving blood vessel function. Increased sedentary time may be adversely related to endothelial function, researchers said.

The study measured activity and biomarkers at the same time and didn’t establish whether activity influenced the biomarkers, or the biomarkers influenced activity, Elhakeem said.

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (or a combination of the two) and muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days a week.

Source: American Heart Association


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Study: Just 2 Weeks’ Inactivity Can Trigger Diabetes in at-Risk Seniors

A short stretch of inactivity can unlease diabetes in older adults at risk for the blood-sugar disease, a new study finds.

For the study, overweight patients with prediabetes were asked to reduce their daily steps to no more than 1,000 a day for two weeks.

This short stretch of reduced activity led to elevated blood sugar levels and sped onset of type 2 diabetes — and some patients did not fully recover even after resuming normal activity, according to the Canadian study. It was published online recently in The Journals of Gerontology.

“We expected to find that the study participants would become diabetic, but we were surprised to see that they didn’t revert back to their healthier state when they returned to normal activity,” said lead author Chris McGlory.

He is a research fellow in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.

The findings suggest seniors who become inactive due to illness, bed rest or hospitalization are more likely to suffer harmful health effects.

“Treatment of type 2 diabetes is expensive and often complicated,” study co-author Stuart Phillips said in a university news release. Phillips is a professor in the department of kinesiology.

“If people are going to be off their feet for an extended period they need to work actively to recover their ability to handle blood sugar,” he said.

More than 84 million Americans have prediabetes, and more than 30 million are diabetic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In order for prediabetic older adults to recover metabolic health and prevent further declines from periods of inactivity, strategies such as active rehabilitation, dietary changes and perhaps medication might be useful,” McGlory said.

Source: HealthDay


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Study: Alzheimer’s Drug May Stop Disease if Used before Symptoms Develop

About 50 percent of people who reach the age of 85 will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Most will die within about five years of exhibiting the hallmark symptoms of the disease – severe memory loss and a precipitous decline in cognitive function.

But the molecular processes that lead to the disease will have begun years earlier.

Currently, there are no known ways to prevent the disease or to stop its progression once it has begun. But research at the University of Virginia offers new understanding of how the disease develops at the molecular level, long before extensive neuronal damage occurs and symptoms show up.

Additionally, the researchers have found that an FDA-approved drug, memantine, currently used only for alleviating the symptoms of moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease, might be used to prevent or slow the progression of the disease if used before symptoms appear. The research also offers, based on extensive experimentation, a hypothesis as to why this might work.

The findings are published currently online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

“Based on what we’ve learned so far, it is my opinion that we will never be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease by treating patients once they become symptomatic,” said George Bloom, a UVA professor and chair of the Department of Biology, who oversaw the study in his lab. “The best hope for conquering this disease is to first recognize patients who are at risk, and begin treating them prophylactically with new drugs and perhaps lifestyle adjustments that would reduce the rate at which the silent phase of the disease progresses.

“Ideally, we would prevent it from starting in the first place.”

As Alzheimer’s disease begins, there is a lengthy period of time, perhaps a decade or longer, when brain neurons affected by the disease attempt to divide, possibly as a way to compensate for the death of neurons. This is unusual in that most neurons develop prenatally and then never divide again. But in Alzheimer’s the cells make the attempt, and then die.

“It’s been estimated that as much as 90 percent of neuron death that occurs in the Alzheimer’s brain follows this cell cycle reentry process, which is an abnormal attempt to divide,” Bloom said. “By the end of the course of the disease, the patient will have lost about 30 percent of the neurons in the frontal lobes of the brain.”

Erin Kodis, a former Ph.D. student in Bloom’s lab and now a scientific editor at AlphaBioCom, hypothesized that excess calcium entering neurons through calcium channels on their surface drive those neurons back into the cell cycle. This occurs before a chain of events that ultimately produce the plaques found in the Alzheimer’s brain. Several experiments by Kodis ultimately proved her theory correct.

The building blocks of the plaques are a protein called amyloid beta oligomers. Kodis found that when neurons are exposed to toxic amyloid oligomers, the channel, called the NMDA receptor, opens, thus allowing the calcium flow that drives neurons back into the cell cycle.

Memantine blocks cell cycle reentry by closing the NMDA receptor, Kodis found.

“The experiments suggest that memantine might have potent disease-modifying properties if it could be administered to patients long before they have become symptomatic and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” Bloom said. “Perhaps this could prevent the disease or slow its progression long enough that the average age of symptom onset could be significantly later, if it happens at all.”

Side effects of the drug appear to be infrequent and modest.

Bloom said potential patients would need to be screened for Alzheimer’s biomarkers years before symptoms appear. Selected patients then would need to be treated with memantine, possibly for life, in hopes of stopping the disease from ever developing, or further developing.

“I don’t want to raise false hopes,” Bloom said, but “if this idea of using memantine as a prophylactic pans out, it will be because we now understand that calcium is one of the agents that gets the disease started, and we may be able to stop or slow the process if done very early.”

Source: University of Virginia


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