Saccadic eye movements as indicators of cognitive function in older adults

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Bowling, AC, Lindsay, P, Smith, BG & Storok, K in press, 'Saccadic eye movements as indicators of cognitive function in older adults', Neuropsychology, Development and Cognition.

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Older adults appear to have greater difficulty ignoring distractions during day-to-day activities than younger adults. To assess these effects of age, the ability of adults aged between 50 and 80 years to ignore distracting stimuli was measured using the antisaccade and oculomotor capture tasks. In the antisaccade task, observers are instructed to look away from a visual cue, whereas in the oculomotor capture task, observers are instructed to look toward a colored singleton in the presence of a concurrent onset distractor. Index scores of the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS) were compared with capture errors, and with prosaccade errors on the antisaccade task. A higher percentage of capture errors were made on the oculomotor capture tasks by the older members of the cohort compared to the younger members. There was a weak relationship between the attention index and capture errors, but the visuospatial/constructional index was the strongest predictor of prosaccade error rate in the antisaccade task. The saccade reaction times (SRTs) of correct initial saccades in the oculomotor capture task were poorly correlated with age, and with the neurospsychological tests, but prosaccade SRTs in both tasks moderately correlated with antisaccade error rate. These results were interpreted in terms of a competitive integration (or race) model. Any variable that reduces the strength of the top-down neural signal to produce a voluntary saccade, or that increases saccade speed, will enhance the likelihood that a reflexive saccade to a stimulus with an abrupt onset will occur.