For several decades, researchers have been examining the positive impact glucose has in relation to neurocognitive performance. And they have found that a small sugary treat can boost memory and performance when faced with a difficult task in older adults and makes them feel happier during a task.
A long-standing body of research has been bolstered by this new study from the University of Warwick– published in the journal Psychology and Aging — has concluded that sugar does indeed improve memory and motivation in older adults.
The researchers gave young (aged 18-27) and older (aged 65-82) participants a drink containing a small amount of glucose and got them to perform various memory tasks while other participants were given a placebo, a drink containing artificial sweetener.
The study involved about 50 young adults. They then measured participants’ levels of engagement with the task, their memory score, mood, and their own perception of effort.
The subjects were all given either a drink containing either a small amount of glucose or an artificial sweetener. After performing an assortment of memory tasks, the subjects’ engagement was measured by following changes in heart rate and self-reported efforts.
Interestingly, despite both the old and young glucose groups showing increased engagement, relative to the placebo group, only the older glucose group showed an improvement in memory performance.
So, the younger subjects may have been a little hyped up by the glucose, but it didn’t actually improve their performance on the memory tasks.
However, older adults who had a glucose drink showed significantly better memory and more positive mood compared to older adults who consumed the artificial sweetener.
The researchers hypothesize that an increase in blood sugar levels most likely resulted in a short-term boost of energy that enhanced the older subjects’ motivation to perform the task. This active engagement with the task is what the researchers suggest is behind the improved cognitive effects.
“Over the years, studies have shown that actively engaging with difficult cognitive tasks is a prerequisite for the maintenance of cognitive health in older age,” says Konstantinos Mantantzis, a PhD student working on the project.
“Therefore, the implications of uncovering the mechanisms that determine older adults’ levels of engagement cannot be understated.”
The researchers noted that it is still unclear exactly how energy availability affects cognitive engagement, so this study doesn’t suggest sugar being included in specific dietary guidelines for senior citizens.
With Agency Inputs