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See Inside June/July 2006

Age at Work

Older workers are not necessarily slower than younger workers, and often they make fewer errors

THEY MOVE TOO SLOWLY, forget things and are inflexible. They don’t do teamwork and can’t adapt to new technologies. Many people describe older workers in these terms, and the characterizations are often the reasons personnel managers give for hiring younger employees instead.

But are these views substantiated? Do older employees in fact perform poorly? If so, at what tasks? Neuroscientists and psychologists active in the field of “cognitive gerontology” are investigating these questions. What they have found so far is surprising: although older people may be slower at some tasks, they are actually faster at others, and in most cases they are less prone to mistakes. The research also reveals that only certain brain functions are affected by possible age-related deficits and that simple changes in the workplace can compensate for them.

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