Awareness in ageing.
University of Southampton, School of Psychology,
Deficits in awareness are found in diseases of ageing, and with acute and traumatic brain injury. Despite investigations of awareness in ageing patient populations, little is known
about any potential effects of normal ageing on awareness. The Hierarchies of Processing model (Stuss, Picton & Alexander, 2001) provided a theoretical framework for an investigation of different types of awareness in healthy ageing. Four empirical studies are reported in this thesis.
An investigation of sensory processing using ERP components found that older adults had reduced attentional capture of auditory stimuli and allocated less attention to processing
target stimuli. However, behavioural performance was equivalent across groups, indicating that the underlying differences found in sensory processing did not significantly impact on functioning. Age-related differences were also found in ERP components associated with performance monitoring: error detection; error processing; and, in reaction times.
However, again, behavioural performance was similar, and indicated that older adults were able to compensate for underlying brain changes. In the third study, there were no age
differences in any of the measures of awareness specifically focusing on current functioning and abilities, which suggested that awareness of abilities, did not alter as a function of healthy ageing. The final exploratory study found that the different levels of awareness were related, and, that the pattern of relationships was similar for younger and older adults.
Normal healthy ageing was associated with subtle differences in some processes underlying different types of awareness, but without any functional impairment. It was concluded that older adults may adapt to underlying brain and cognitive changes occurring during later life.
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