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Warping perception of time – newly discovered consequence of aging

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Posted January 1, 2016

Aging makes a lot of changes in our minds and bodies. Because of many problems related to it, scientists are looking for ways to combat the process of aging and to avoid damage done by it. However, it turns out we do not even know all the effects aging has on us. Recent study from the University of Waterloo showed that aging warps our perception of time.

Aging has many negative effects, but warped perception of time has only been discovered now. It makes rapid decision-making difficult, which means that such tasks as driving are especially hard. Image credit: dregsplod via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

Aging has many negative effects, but warped perception of time has only been discovered now. It makes rapid decision-making difficult, which means that such tasks as driving are especially hard. Image credit: dregsplod via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

It is said that this phenomenon is much like watching a video with audio out of sync. Older people may struggle combining the stimuli they see and hear, which makes it difficult to make rapid decisions. It is crucial in some situations, like driving. Furthermore, elderly people may find it hard to distinguish the order of particular events.

This was noticed when researchers performed certain experiment. They presented light and sound stimulus at the same or different time to participants. While youngsters and mid-aged adults had no difficulty to say which came first (or if they came at the same time), older people performed much worse.

Michael Barnett-Cowan, senior author of the paper, explained: “to make sense of the world around us, the brain has to rapidly decide whether to combine different sources of information. Older adults often experience problems processing multisensory information, which in turn can affect everyday tasks from following conversations, to driving, to maintaining balance”.

Scientists performed other experiments as well. They showed participants two lights coming towards one another. Usually the lights appear to stream past each other, but when a sound occurs close to when the lights touch, they seem to bounce off each other. Older participants perceived the lights as bouncing even if the sounds came before or after the lights touch. Scientists say that it means brain of older people combine information that does not belong together.

This is the first time such phenomenon was observed. Now scientists say that training using video games or brain stimulation could be a solution to maintain healthy brain for longer. If science will succeed at identifying and addressing the causes of warped perception of time, eventually quality of life of elderly people can be improved dramatically. It is especially important because seniors are a growing segment of Western societies. Their integration into social life is a major task for the modern science.

Source: uwaterloo.ca

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