You don’t have to be a senior to experience a “senior moment,” meaning you forget an otherwise familiar word or name, or can’t exactly remember what you planned to do the next minute. It happens throughout life, it just seems to happen more frequently with age.
Stresses the Brain, Experts Warn
But it’s not always due to mental decline in our later years that we lose track of things. Much of what we ascribe to forgetfulness may actually be a matter of loss of focus, concentration and attention span that begins much earlier.
In our busy lives, distractions are ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid. Most of us are in fact used to juggling several chores at once – a.k.a. multitasking – day in and day out. It has become so much part of us that it almost feels strange to dwell on just one subject matter for too long.
Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all this. Studies have shown that the brain actually suffers from being pulled in too many different directions.
For example, researchers from Stanford University found that talking on the phone or sending text messages while doing other things or having other interactions at the same time can cause what they coined “impairment of cognitive control”.
We admire people who act with great efficiency, and it can be a real asset to be able to function this way. But participants in tests showed that when they were regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information and demands, they paid less attention, could often not remember important details, and switched from one job to the next with less ease, compared to others who completed only one project at the time.
Moreover, the multitaskers had a harder time figuring out which information was relevant and which wasn’t to a specific project. People who get inundated with data and messages can become “suckers for irrelevancy,” as one study author put it.
Especially an intense (some say, addictive) use of media may impact the brain in ways we are not yet fully comprehending. Clinical studies have already detected changes in the minds of adolescents and young adults who spend a lot of their time on social media. Since the technology that drives such behavior is relatively new, long-term outcomes are still unclear.
However, experts do agree that a constant exposure to media and communication in the so-called digital age does indeed shorten the attention span most people can muster.
While more research is needed to establish direct connections, the effects of distraction and lack of focus do seem real, and may become more pronounced as people grow older.
As it gets harder to digest information or commit data to memory, it becomes ever more important to remain mentally engaged. It may take longer to learn new skills, or even just read through a newspaper article or an entire book, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and the benefits are myriad.