Aging means change. This change is complex and takes place over the entire life span. It is accompanied by a decrease in cognitive functions which are highly relevant to a wide range of everyday life activities and vocational success. This decline in fluid cognitive functions such as attention and executive control is offset by an increase in crystalline functions based on learning and experience. In addition, older people often develop strategies for the efficient compensation of deficits. A deeper understanding of healthy aging therefore requires elucidating the mechanisms of change and to identifying modulating factors and their complex interactions over time.
The networking group Aging investigates changes in cognitive functions in middle-aged and older people by means of behavioral and neurophysiological methods. The aim of our work is to investigate and model the interplay of fluid and crystalline cognitive functions, compensation strategies and their consequences for the workplace. Especially in work contexts, high-level cognitive performance is essential. This applies to mental flexibility in coping with multiple tasks, focused attention to avoid distraction, but also to communication skills and stress resistance in demanding work situations. We investigate these processes using prototypical examples from the workplace, such as operating machines (using the example of car driving in the DisDrive and DoBoLSiS projects), the effects of distraction on complex mental work (in the work interruption project), and understanding speech under difficult conditions (in the TrainStim project).
Age-related changes usually occur gradually. In our work, we therefore take a development-oriented perspective and look at both longer-term time periods and certain critical age ranges where serious changes are expected to take place. Examples include the “Dortmund Vital Study”, in which we examine cognitive changes in individuals between aged 20 to 70 years, and the DoBoLSiS project, in which we document and analyse the development of road safety behavior in older drivers over a period of five years.
To address the variety of modulating factors, we pursue an integrative and interdisciplinary approach that aims to identify individual (e.g., genetics, lifestyle, immunological status) and environmental factors (e.g., type of work, stress). In doing so, we fulfill a networking function within the IfADo. The IfADo examines age-relevant processes and functions at different levels – from the biochemical and cellular to the behavioral level. The ultimate goal of our networking is to harness the broad range of research competences of the IfADo and to achieve synergic effects in aging research. Furthermore, we are active in the Leibniz Research Alliance “Healthy Ageing”, an interdisciplinary collaboration of 21 scientific institutes of the Leibniz Association, and the European Cognitive Aging Society (EUCAS).