McNair Scholars Research Journal


Although the effects of chronic substance use on both improvements and impairments in cognitive functioning have been widely studied, less is known about the interactive effect that two or more substances can have on different domains of cognitive functioning in aging adults. As the number of older adults continues to grow in the U.S., along with concomitant increases in substance use in this age group, it will be crucial to better understand the impact of their substance use over time. Information processing speed will be an imperative component to consider when studying substance use in this group because of the role it plays in reasoning, working memory, and cognitive aging. To explore this, we used processing speed and substance use data on older adults (60 years and older) from the 1999--2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. A 2 (smoke now; yes/no) by 2 (ever binge drink; yes/no) ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for alcohol on processing speed, a trend for smoking on processing speed, but a non-significant interaction term. Processing speed among non-alcohol users was significantly higher than for alcohol users. Future research should study more complex interactions between substances on the processing speed of older adults.