“The early bird catches the worm.” Apparently, this is as true for aging adults as it is for youngsters who hear it all the time. In a recent study coming out of the University of Oregon in Eugene, older adults are able to overcome distractions and perform more challenging cognitive tasks in the morning, researchers suggest.
When tested in the morning, a period when alertness appears to peak, seniors in the study group were able to activate the same brain regions that control focus and attention to levels that rivaled 19 to 30 year-olds. “The brain of an older adult tested in the morning looks more like a young child,” said psychologist Ulrich Mayr, who studies aging and executive control. When cognitively challenged in the afternoon, older adults in the study were able to ignore intentional distractions only 5.4 percent as often as young adults could, but when tested in the morning, their results jumped to 41.4 percent as often — which is still less than half, but significantly better, researchers note.
“Cognitive decline is not as drastic as people thought it was,” says John Anderson, a doctoral candidate in psychology from the University of Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute, who is also conducting similar studies. “It’s good news,” he adds. “Older adults are more focused and better able to ignore distraction in the morning than the afternoon.”
What’s the big takeaway from these findings? These and many other studies suggest that older adults should schedule intellectually challenging tasks in the morning, when it’s more likely they’ll be more alert. Additionally, physical therapy and other concentration-demanding treatments for seniors might also be better scheduled in the morning, when they are operating at their mental peak.
Not surprisingly, it all seems to echo what we often hear from seniors: “I’m more of a morning person.”