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Despite showing signs of poorer cognitive performance, older adults tend to have better mental wellbeing than younger adults, according to a researcher. new study.
A study published this month in Psychology and Aging by researchers from the University of California The San Diego School of Medicine reports that adults over 60 showed greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. Adults in their twenties tend to have more experience with anxiety, depression, and loneliness than older adults.
The researchers sampled 62 healthy young adults in their twenties and 54 healthy older adults over the age of 60. The study analyzed participants’ mental health and had them perform several cognitive tasks, using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure their brain activity. Anxiety, depression and loneliness were the mental well-being factors measured in each participant.
Older adults had more difficulty completing cognitive tests, but showed higher levels of mental well-being. The EEG results showed that the older participants had more activity in their anterior area of the default mode network, which is the part of the brain where individuals can daydream or ruminate. The default mode is usually suppressed when an individual is focused on a task.
“We wanted to better understand the interplay between cognition and mental health across aging, and whether they rely on activation of similar or different brain areas,” said Jyoti Mishra, PhD, director of NEATLabs and lead author of the study, in A declaration.
“The default mode network is useful in other contexts, helping us process the past and imagine the future, but it’s distracting when you’re trying to focus on the present to tackle a demanding task with speed and accuracy,” added Mishra.
In contrast, younger adults showed more activity in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, resulting in better performance for cognitive tests. The cortex is the part of the brain with the executive control system and tends to degrade over time with age, researchers say. However, older people who did well on cognitive tasks used their lower frontal cortex, the area of the brain used to avoid distractions.
“We tend to think of people in their twenties as being at the peak of their cognitive performance, but it’s also a very stressful time in their lives, so when it comes to mental well-being, there can be lessons to draw older adults and their brains,” Mishra said.