WASHINGTON, DC, June 18 — It’s not just old-timers who have those “senior moments;” studies show that we gradually begin to find it harder to focus when we are in our twenties and it gets more difficult as we age — it’s a slow process but it’s also part of the aging process.
“A specific brain network, the locus coeruleus, that controls our ability to focus while under stress appears to weaken as we age, interfering with our ability to focus,” is how Science Daily explains it. Studies have shown that when we get older it’s normal for us to get distracted, making it hard for us to pay attention.
According to Professor Mara Mather, a co-author of one of those studies, “Trying hard to complete a task increases emotional arousal, so when younger adults try hard, this should increase their ability to ignore distracting information.”
While young adults are not as easily distracted as are senior citizens, there is scientific evidence that the ability to ignore distractions peaks when we are about twenty years old and slowly deteriorates with each passing year.
“So, if you forget that you wear glasses, have your forgetfulness checked out. But if you simply forgot where you left your glasses, it is most likely the rigors of getting old,” says Rebecca Weber, CEO of the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC].
The Harvard Medical School published a report on the topic, noting that: “Most people start to notice changes as they enter their 50s and 60s. Although these changes can cause consternation, most age-related memory and thinking problems don’t stem from an underlying brain disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, what appears to be a memory problem may simply reflect a slower processing speed and poor encoding and retrieval of new memories as a result of diminished attention. However, even though your brain may be slower to learn and recall new information, your ability to make sense of what you know and to form reasonable arguments and judgments remains intact.”
In other words, says AMAC’s Weber, while you may forget where you left your glasses, the knowledge and wisdom you’ve accrued in your lifetime remains. “Remember, it might take a bit longer to recall the details of an event or the answer to a routine question it doesn’t mean that you’ve lost it. You’re simply the victim of the aging process.”
As the folks at the Harvard Medical School put it: “The result is that as you age, it takes longer to absorb, process, and remember new information. The natural loss of receptors and neurons that occurs with aging may also make it harder to concentrate. Therefore, you not only learn information more slowly, but you also may have more trouble recalling it because you didn’t fully learn it in the first place. With slower processing, facts held in working memory may dissipate before you have had a chance to solve a problem.”
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