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Remembering the past and foreseeing the future while dealing with the present: a comparison of young adult and elderly cohorts on a multitask simulation of occupational activities.

Authors
  • 1
Type
Published Article
Journal
Experimental aging research
Publication Date
Volume
32
Issue
3
Pages
363–380
Identifiers
PMID: 16754472
Source
Medline

Abstract

Thirty-five young adult and 38 elderly cybernauts, matched for education, sex, alcohol consumption, and time/day of computer use were compared on a computerized simulation of professional activities of daily living (ADLs). The program quantified performance in terms of speed and accuracy on four major constructs: (1) planning (a 30-item office party script); (2) prospective memory (injections, sleep, phone); (3) working memory (PASAT, D2, and CES analogs); and (4) retrospective memory. Participants had to organize an office party, self inject insulin and go to bed at requisite times of day, do "office work" at unpredictable times of day, and answer the phone that blinked but did not ring (near threshold stimulus). The elderly were markedly and equally impaired on all four constructs (F = 24.3, p < .000). The elderly were also equally and markedly impaired on slave and central executive systems (c.f. Baddeley's model) and on event-based and time-based prospective memory (c.f. McDaniel's model)-findings arguing against a "frontal" model of cognitive decline. This supports Salthouse's concept of a "general factors" decline in normal aging due to diffuse deterioration of the brain. On the other hand, as expected from previous findings, the balance of omissiveness/commissiveness was significantly increased in the elderly sample's error profile. Furthermore, the balance of speed and accuracy was significantly increased in the elderly. This defines limits of the "general factors" model. The elderly also markedly underused a clock icon which had to be clicked on to get the virtual time of day necessary for integrating all the required actions. Prospective memory explained 11% of the aging variance despite partialing out of the three other constructs, making it appear as a golden standard of sensititivity to normal aging-though perhaps provided it be implemented in a distracting, multitask, strategically demanding context.

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