NEW YORK — Coffee has been linked to a slew of health benefits, and now, a new study suggests that it may improve reaction time in older adults.
In the study, presented today (April 5) here at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's annual meeting, researchers set out to examine the effects of caffeine on a number of cognitive abilities in healthy, older adults.
Ultimately, their goal is to see what role caffeine may play in treating dementia, said Kanchan Sharma, a neurology researcher at the University of Bristol in England and the lead researcher on the new study. [10 Interesting Facts About Caffeine]
Currently, some treatments for dementia work by boosting attention, Sharma told Live Science. Caffeine is also thought to boost attention, but interestingly, this hasn't been proven in research, he said.
To study the effects of caffeine on attention, Sharma and his colleagues tested 38 healthy adults who ranged in age from 55 to 91, Sharma said.
The participants first took a series of tests that measured different aspects of attention. Then, the participants were asked to stop drinking caffeine for one week. After one week, one group was given 100 milligrams (1 cup) of caffeinated coffee, and the other group was given decaffeinated coffee, and they were asked to perform the tests again. The next day, the drinks were switched. This way, the participants could serve as their own controls, Sharma said.
The researchers found that drinking the caffeinated coffee improved the participants' average reaction time. They also found that the caffeine improved participants' accuracy on a test called the "Stroop test," which measures skills such as planning and focusing.
In the Stroop test, participants are shown the name of a color, but the name is written in a different color. For example, the word "blue" may be written in red text. The participants are then asked to identify either the name of the color, or the color of the text.
Drinking caffeine had no effect, however, on the participants' motor speed, or how quickly they could press a button when prompted.
Sharma noted that the improvements the researchers observed in the study were small. However, in people with cognitive impairment, caffeine could have a much greater effect because their baseline would be lower, Sharma said. In future studies, Sharma plans to look at the effects of caffeine on people who have cognitive impairments, such as dementia, he said.
The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.