Older Adults Can Have More of a Challenge to Overcome

As one gets older, it becomes harder to filter out distractions and stick to a project, organize your thoughts, or follow the flow of a conversation, says Richard Restak, M.D., clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C, and co- author of The Longevity Strategy: How to Live to 100 Using the Brain-Body Connection”.

Changes in brain activity begin gradually in middle age and may explain why older adults have a harder time with concentration in busy environments, and are easily distracted by irrelevant information. This news comes from The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest and the University of Toronto, where scientists compared brain function in young, middle-aged and older adults. It’s known that older adults are more easily distracted. The study shows that they have found a mechanism in the brain to explain this and generated new insight into when in the lifespan these brain changes begin to occur,” says senior Rotman scientist and lead author Dr. Cheryl Grady.

The study says these findings add to the growing belief by scientists that two regions in the brain’s frontal lobes gradually shift into a seesaw imbalance,” which causes older adults to become less efficient at blocking distracting information than young people are. Concentration ability declines with age; the study found significant differences between concentration abilities in old and young people.

In younger adults, activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (associated with tasks that require concentration, such as reading) normally increases during the task, while activity in the medial frontal and parietal regions (associated with non-task related activity in a resting state, such as thinking about yourself, what you did last night, monitoring what’s going on around you) normally decreases. Dr. Grady’s team reported that starting in middle age (40-60 years) this seesaw pattern begins to break down during performance of memory tasks.

Activity in the medial frontal and parietal regions stays turned on while activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases. This imbalance becomes more pronounced in older adults who could explain their reduced ability to ignore distracting or irrelevant information.

In summary, by researching articles we have learned that people of all ages experience a lack of concentration at certain times. Children have the best means to block’ out other distractions around them with their solid play and imagination. On the other end of a life, the older people have greater difficulty concentrating, filtering out distractions, sticking to a project, organizing thoughts, or following the flow of a conversation.

People of all ages’ experience some concentration loss, especially if the body is feeling taxed. When your attention takes a detour, the culprit may be one type of distraction or another; worry, stress, hunger or the cat scratching at the screen door. If you can’t concentrate, it’s hard to get anything done. This paper has provided some notions to what people of all ages can do to improve their concentration. The first thing is to admit there is a concentration problem”; only then can strategies be put in place to make the necessary changes.