Masters Thesis

Effects of Diet on Learning Abilities in Old Rats

With an increase in longevity, many studies have explored the influences of different lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and social support, on successful aging. In this study, based on prior research, we hypothesized that older rats on a nutritionally balanced standard diet would perform better on learning tasks than rats on either a high-sucrose or high-saturated fat diet. Furthermore, we hypothesized that old rats on a high-sucrose diet would perform better than those on a high-saturated fat diet. The learning abilities of the 15-month-old rats (N = 27) were assessed by conducting forward and reverse learning tasks using a T-maze. The results showed that the rats on a standard diet performed significantly better in both the forward and reverse learning tasks than those on either the high-sucrose or the high-saturated fat diet (p’s < 0.05). On the other hand, there was no significant difference between the learning abilities of the animals on high-sucrose and high-saturated fat diets (p’s > 0.05). Taken together, the results supported our hypothesis that rats on a standard diet would perform better than those on high-sucrose and high-saturated fat diets. This may be due to the fact that the high-sucrose and high-saturated fat diets exacerbate cognitive decline in geriatric rats. However, the results did not support our hypothesis that there would be a difference in learning abilities between the two experimental groups. These results could be generalized to the older adult population and utilized to ensure necessary dietary programs are implemented to help maintain overall wellness.

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