According to new research from the University of Warwick, sugar improves memory in the elderly and motivates them to perform difficult tasks at full capacity.
The study found that increasing blood sugar levels not only improves memory and performance, but makes seniors feel happier during a task.
The researchers gave young participants (aged 18-27) and older (aged 65-82) a drink containing a small amount of glucose and forced them to perform various memory tasks. Other participants were given a placebo, a drink containing artificial sweetener.
The researchers measured the levels of commitment of the participants with the task, their memory score, mood and their own perception of the effort.
They found that increasing energy through a drink with glucose can help both young and older adults try harder compared to those who had the artificial sweetener. In young adults, glucose did not improve their mood or memory performance. However, older adults who drank a beverage with glucose showed significantly better memory and a more positive mood compared to the older adults who consumed the artificial sweetener.
In addition, although objective measures of task commitment showed that older adults in the glucose group put more effort into the task than those who consumed the artificial sweetener, their own self-reports showed that they did not feel as if they had done so.
All in all, more research is needed to unravel these factors in order to fully understand how energy availability affects cognitive engagement.
According to Friederike Schlaghecken, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick:
Our results bring us one step closer to understanding what motivates older adults to strive and find ways to increase their willingness to work even if a task seems impossible to perform.