OLDER people are less likely to learn from their mistakes because they don't always notice them, according to new research.
Neuroscientists at Trinity College say their work shows that the extent to which older people are aware of the errors can be improved by applying tiny electrical currents to the frontal regions of their brain.
The "tiny and harmless" electrical currents can be applied to the scalp – a technique known as transcranial electrical stimulation. "The findings may help us develop better methods for helping older people keep mentally sharp as they get older," said researcher Siobhan Harty.
Prof Harty carried out the research with Prof of Psychology Ian Robertson and Dr Redmond O'Connell, Assistant Professor in Social Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. The study, published in the 'Journal of Neuroscience', has shown how people in their 70s are on average less aware of mistakes they make than younger people.
They looked at 106 people aged between 65 and 86. "We learn from our mistakes and if we don't we run into problems," Prof Harty explained.
"Based on previous research we predicted that the right frontal lobe of the brain was particularly important in mistake-detection, and tested this by applying the tiny and harmless electric currents.
"We found that people in their seventies improved their mistake-awareness by more than 10pc when they were receiving stimulation.
The study said it will be important for future studies to examine the extent to which these findings generalise to populations other than older adults.
"This finding may help us develop better methods for helping older people keep mentally sharp as they get older."
Although the present study has demonstrated that a single session of electric currents can result in immediate improvements in error awareness, the maintenance of the effect beyond the period of stimulation was not assessed.
Prof Richard Carson, chair of cognitive neuroscience of ageing, pointed out that older adults who undertake physical training are typically seeking to maintain or increase their strength with a view to preserving or improving their functional capabilities.
Ageing is also the main factor for most chronic diseases, disabilities and declining health.
Progressive neurodegenerative disorders are set to become the developed world's largest socioeconomic healthcare burden over the coming decades.