Caffeine Sharpens the Mind

With Mug of Real Java in Hand, You 'Morning People' Should Be Fond of the Afternoon, Too 

By Michael Smith, MD 

Dec. 20, 2001 -- Do you thrive in the morning and fall off as the day goes on? If so, a new study shows that a morning latte can jump start your mind all the way into the afternoon.

At least 75% of people over the age of 65 say they are "morning" people, according to researchers at the University of Arizona. But their research shows that a cup of java -- don't hold the caffeine -- may be able to turn you into an afternoon, person too. 

In older people, memory is best early in the morning and then declines during the late afternoons, says lead author Lee Ryan, in a news release. 

The researchers looked at 40 people over 65 and tested their memory in the morning and again in the afternoon a few days later. Each time, they drank a 12 oz. cup of coffee before going through a series of memory tests. Some drank decaffeinated coffee and some had the real thing but were not told which one they were getting. 

Those who had caffeine were able to recall more items on a delayed memory test. That is, after a 20-minute delay and distraction with other tasks, those in the caffeine group were much better at recalling words presented to them. 

The study appears in the January issue of Psychological Science. 

In fact, those who drank decaffeinated coffee "showed a significant decline in memory performance from morning to afternoon," Ryan says. Those who drank the caffeine had no fall in their memory test scores. Ryan is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. 

The authors suggest that the fall in mental sharpness experienced by many people over 65 may be due to changes in alertness -- which is improved with caffeine. 

However, Ryan and her colleagues aren't endorsing caffeine particularly. She says that other stimulants would likely produce a similar effect. 

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