New article on age differences in routine formation

Medication adherence can be vital for one’s health, especially in older adults. However, previous research has demonstrated that medication adherence is negatively affected by age-related cognitive decline. In the current study we investigated whether older adults are able to compensate for this decline by relying more on the formation of efficient, automatized routines. To this end, we directly compared daily (placebo) medication adherence in a healthy sample of 68 younger (18–29  years) and 63 older adults (65–86  years) over a period of 4  weeks. We show that despite an age-related decline in cognitive functions (i.e., poorer working memory, prospective memory, task switching, and goal-directed control), older adults adhered better to a daily pill intake routine than younger adults did and, in line with our hypothesis about increased routine formation, reported higher subjective automaticity of pill intake. Across age groups, automatization of pill intake was related to intake regularity and conscientiousness, but not to individual differences in habit tendency as measured in the lab nor to explicit strategic planning. Crucially, the age-related increase in pill intake adherence was mediated by experienced automatization as well as motivation. These findings demonstrate that intact habitual processes and high motivation aid older adults in successfully forming daily routines.