Caffeine Boosts Memory in Older Adults
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Having
another senior moment? The cure may lie in a steaming mug of coffee,
new study findings suggest.
The investigators found that older adults who drank a 12-ounce
cup of regular coffee before taking a memory test performed better
than their peers who drank decaffeinated coffee. Not only did
caffeine drinkers have higher scores on the test, which was given
in the morning and afternoon, but they did not show any decline
in memory throughout the day.
Test scores declined significantly between morning and afternoon
in people who were regular coffee-drinkers but consumed decaffeinated
coffee for a day.
The findings support other research showing that in older adults,
caffeine can improve memory, which tends to peak in the morning
and decline during the late afternoon, according to Dr. Lee Ryan
and colleagues of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
``I think the interesting thing about this study is just how
easily we could help older adults to increase their cognitive
functioning,'' Ryan told Reuters Health, adding that anything
that boosts energy levels, including a brisk walk or an afternoon
nap, will probably help memory.
``Right now, two things we can say for sure: First, a large majority
of older adults will be functioning at their peak in the early
morning, so if they're planning an important meeting with their
stockbroker, best to do it in the morning. Second, if you're a
regular coffee drinker, having a mug of coffee in the afternoon
just might help you stay sharp,'' Ryan said.
According to the report in the January issue of Psychological
Science, at least three quarters of adults over the age of 65
consider themselves ``morning'' people--meaning they believe that
they are at their best in the early hours of the day, compared
with less than 10% of younger adults.
To examine the effect of time of day on learning and memory,
the researchers administered a verbal learning test to 40 healthy
adults over 65 years of age who considered themselves ``morning''
people. The tests were given at 8 AM and at 4 PM in sessions occurring
5 to 11 days apart.
Study volunteers drank either a 12-ounce cup of coffee with 220
milligrams (mg) to 270 mg of caffeine, or the same amount of decaffeinated
coffee, which contains no more than 10 mg of caffeine per serving,
30 minutes before taking the test. All volunteers were regular
In an interview, Ryan explained that caffeine stimulates many
regions of the brain and that areas that regulate wakefulness,
arousal, mood and concentration are especially sensitive to even
``We suspect that this accounts for the increase in performance.
If so, caffeine would have an impact on a wide variety of cognitive
functions, not just memory,'' she said.
The findings may not apply to younger adults, for whom caffeine
does not appear to have the same effect on memory unless they
are tired or sleep deprived, Ryan said. They also may not apply
to people who are not regular coffee drinkers, who might have
negative effects of coffee-drinking, such as shakiness, anxiety
and decreased concentration.
SOURCE: Psychological Science 2002;13.
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