If you find it harder to focus your attention and absorb information as you age, you're not imagining it. Normal aging leads to gradual changes in many skills associated with thinking and memory. In fact, research shows that memory loss begins as early as age 45.
The slowdown in processing can lead to a bottleneck of information entering your short-term memory, reducing the amount of information that can be acquired and encoded into long-term memory.
The good news is that you can improve focus and attention. Try these four strategies to help you tune out distractions and improve your ability to focus in daily life:
- When someone is talking to you, look at the person and listen closely. If you missed something that was said, ask the person to repeat it or to speak more slowly.
- Paraphrase what was said to make sure you understand it and reinforce the information. For example, if someone says, "We can see the movie either at Loews Theater at 7:30 or at the Paramount at 7:50," you might respond, "Which would you prefer, 7:30 at Loews or 7:50 at the Paramount?"
- If you find that you tend to become distracted during conversations, try getting together with people in quiet environments. For example, you could suggest meeting at someone's home instead of at a noisy restaurant. When you do meet people at a restaurant, sit at a table near a wall. If your companions sit against the wall and you sit facing them, you'll be able to focus on them without having your attention wander to other diners.
- You can improve your ability to focus on a task and screen out distractions if you do one thing at a time. Try to avoid interruptions. For example, if someone asks you something while you're in the middle of reading or working, ask if the person can wait until you're finished. Don't answer the phone until you've finished what you're doing — let voice mail take the call.
For more on how to learning how to improve your memory, buy Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss, a SHR from Harvard Medical School.
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