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Multitasking Just a Bit Tougher for Older People: Study
Date:4/11/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- If you're typing on a computer while talking on the phone and enjoying a cappuccino, know that you may not be able to focus on so many things at once forever.

In fact, new research finds that older people have slightly less of an ability to multitask, possibly because they can't refocus as well after getting interrupted.

The difference in multitasking abilities between younger and older people wasn't huge: older participants who took part in the study were able to focus after a mind-diverting distraction 88 percent of the time, compared to 90 percent among younger people.

Still, when they're distracted, "older adults pay too much attention to the irrelevant information" in contrast to the task at hand, said study co-author Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the report, which appears in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at how much people were able to focus when they are trying to do a task and something else vies for their attention. They wanted to specifically study how multitasking abilities evolve over the course of a lifetime.

Previous studies have shown that older people "don't process information as well as younger adults do," Gazzaley said. "They very frequently tell you that they have this experience: they're sitting in the living room, and they leave the couch to get something out of the refrigerator. They arrive there, and have no idea what they're doing there."

This, of course, can also happen to young people, but the question is what makes it more common in older people, so much more common that there's a word for it: "senior moment."

In the study, researchers recruited 20 older people -- average age 69 -- to undergo brain scans as they looked at images of a nature
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