At the slightest interruption -- an irritating ring tone, an insistent email alert or the hushed conversation in the adjacent office cubicle -- our thoughts can plunge into the mental underbrush like hounds snuffling after the wrong scent...our inability to ignore irrelevant intrusions as we grow older may arise from a basic breakdown of internal brain communications involving memory, attention span and mental focus starting in middle age, researchers have discovered.The article notes that, while men's brains shrink faster than do women's, which affects your ability to learn and remember, it doesn't take a sustained amount of interruption for anyone's aging train of thought to get off track:
In experiments testing how well people of different ages could recall faces and landscapes, [researchers] found that among older people, the brain was slightly slower -- 200 milliseconds or so -- to ignore irrelevant test information.... During that momentary lapse, we can forget a new name, misplace our keys or lose our train of thought.What to do? Researchers in the article offer hope for retraining your brain as you age through "proper diet, cardiovascular exercise and formal education," and a sidebar points you to this brain-exercise from NPR on "Remembering Faces," which tests your distractability. It also recommends two books by Harvard neuroscientist Daniel Schacter: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers and Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past. Working on composing a memorable message helps, too -- if you're an older speaker, taking more time to practice and prepare makes sense. For the audience, while you can't control their rates of aging or mental distractability, you may need to focus on eliminating as many distractions as possible, asking them to turn off cell phones, closing doors to keep hallway noise from entering, and more.
Buy The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
Buy Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past