Friday, February 17, 2012

Senior moments, distractions and multitasking

Do you hate it when you’re thinking about something, get interrupted and then can’t seem to remember what you were thinking about? The scary part is that’s normal for older adults.

If you’re over 60, there’s now a study that tells us that older brains just don’t hang onto memories as well as younger brains when interrupted.  The name for your ability to do so is called “working memory” – which, according to a recent AARP article helps you hold information in the mind for brief intervals, an ability essential to mental functioning.

The new research reveals that “younger brains switch very quickly between two different neurological networks — one encodes short-term memory, while the other is activated when we need to pay attention to something new. For older brains, the switch is harder.”

"This study provides the first understanding of the neural brain mechanisms responsible for multitasking and memory in older adults," says the study's senior author, Adam Gazzaley, M.D., director of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center. The research also shows that working memory is very fragile, he says. "Over the course of seconds, one interruption erases memory quality" (italics added).

Somehow that makes me nervous.  Does that mean just one little interruption – A phone call? A bathroom trip? The timer going off? – and you forget that you were supposed to go turn off the oven?

I’ve been there and forgotten that. 

For you research junkies, here’s a link to the study:

So, as boomers to we just say, well, shoot, I guess you should just walk me over to the old-folks home?" Of course not, we're the generation that refuses to accept the inevitable. That, and companies like Lumosity have a bunch of online games designed to bolster our working memory. As a certified Lumosity nut, I'm thinking Monster Garden, Rhyme Workout and Memory Match for starters. For me, these are hard and I need to kick myself to do them more often.

And here’s AARP’s tips regarding “Multitasking, Memory and Your Brain”
  • Focus: If you want to increase your chances of remembering something, stay focused on it. Don't allow yourself to be interrupted when you're studying important information or doing something you'll want to remember later, such as hiding a key or creating a new secret password.
  • Cut distractions: When high quality and performance are demanded, in the workplace or at home, cut out distractions: Shut the door, turn off your cellphone and quit your email program.
  • Brain train: Keep your brain as active as possible to preserve its plasticity. Learn a new language. Cultivate new hobbies. Exercise. Challenge yourself and stay engaged.

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