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Memory & Attention Difficulties are Often Part of a Normal Life

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From young adults to people in their 60s, everyday functioning in today’s world can place high demands on our attention and memory skills.

Memory lapses such as forgetting an appointment, losing our keys, forgetting a distant relative’s name or not remembering why you opened the fridge can leave us believing our thinking skills are impaired.

But you might be too hard on yourself. Tiredness, stress and worry, and feeling down or depressed are all common reasons adults experience attention and memory difficulties.


Read more: What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia


Attention and memory systems

Attention and memory skills are closely connected. Whether we can learn and remember something partly depends on our ability to concentrate on the information at the time.

It also depends on our ability to focus our attention on retrieving that information when it’s being recalled at a later time.

This attention system, which is so important for successful memory function, has a limited capacity – we can only make sense of, and learn, a limited amount of information in any given moment.

Being able to learn, and later successfully remember something, also depends on our memory system, which stores the information.

Changes in attention and memory skills

In people who are ageing normally, both attention and memory systems gradually decline. This decline starts in our early 20s and continues slowly until our 60s, when it tends to speed up.

During normal ageing, the number of connections between brain cells slowly reduce and some areas of the brain progressively work less efficiently. These changes particularly occur in the areas of the brain that are important for memory and attention systems.

This normal ageing decline is different from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which cause progressive changes in thinking skills, emotions and behaviour that are not typical of the normal ageing process. Dementia comes from a group of diseases that affect brain tissue and cause abnormal changes in the way the brain works.


Read more: Why people with dementia don’t all behave the same


If you’re concerned your memory difficulties may be a symptom of dementia, talk to your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, if needed, to determine whether these changes are due to normal ageing, dementia or some other cause.

If you experience persistent changes in your thinking skills, which are clearly greater than your friends and acquaintances who are of a similar age and in similar life circumstances, see your GP.

Normal attention and memory difficulties

Broadly, there are two main reasons healthy adults experience difficulties with their memory and/or attention: highly demanding lives and normal age-related changes.

A person can be consistently using their attention and memory skills at high levels without sufficient mental relaxation time and/or sleep to keep their brain working at its best.

Young adults who are working, studying and then consistently using attention-demanding devices as “relaxation” techniques, such as computer games and social media interaction, fall into this group.

Adults juggling the demands of work or study, family and social requirements also fall into this group.

Most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep per night for their brain to work at its best, with older adults needing seven to eight hours.

Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

The second common reason is a combination of ageing-related brain changes and highly demanding work requirements.

For people in jobs that place a high load on thinking skills, the thinking changes that occur with normal ageing can become noticeable at some point around 55 to 70 years of age. It’s around this time age-related changes in the ability to carry out complex thinking tasks become large enough to be noticeable. People who are retired or don’t have the same mentally demanding jobs generally experience the same changes, but may not notice them as much.

This is also the age many people become more aware of the potential risk of dementia. Consequently, these normal changes can result in high levels of stress and concern, which can result in a person experiencing even greater difficulties day to day.

Emotional distress can take its toll

Feeling down and sad can affect memory and concentration. When a person is feeling worried and/or down regularly, they may become consumed by their thoughts.

It’s important to recognise how you’re feeling, to make changes or seek help if needed. But thinking a lot about how you’re feeling can also take a person’s attention away from the task at hand and make it difficult for them to concentrate on what is happening, or remember it clearly in the future.

So feeling worried or down can make it seem there is something wrong with their memory and concentration.

Boosting your attention and memory skills

There are a number of things that can be done to help your day-to-day memory and attention skills.

First, it’s important to properly rest your mind on a regular basis. This involves routinely doing something you enjoy that doesn’t demand high levels of attention or memory, such as exercising, reading for pleasure, walking the dog, listening to music, relaxed socialising with friends, and so on.

Playing computer games, or having a lengthy and focused session on social media, requires high levels of attention and other thinking skills, so these are not good mental relaxation techniques when you are already mentally tired.


Read more: Why two people see the same thing but have different memories


It’s also important to get enough sleep, so you are not consistently tired – undertaking exercise on a regular basis often helps with getting good quality sleep, as does keeping alcohol consumption within recommended limits.

Looking after your mental health is also important. Noticing how you are feeling and getting support (social and/or professional) during longer periods of high stress or lowered mood will help ensure these things are not affecting your memory or concentration.

Finally, be fair to yourself if you notice difficulties with your thinking. Are the changes you notice any different to those of other people your own age and in similar circumstances, or are you comparing yourself to someone younger or with less demands in their life?

If you have ongoing concerns about your attention and memory, speak with your GP, who can refer you to a specialist, such as a clinical neuropsychologist, if needed.

Senior Lecturer in Clinical Neuropsychology, University of Melbourne

 

Source: Memory and attention difficulties are often part of a normal life

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20 Signs You’re Doing Better Than You Think You Are – Brianna Wiest

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Take a deep breath. You’re doing amazing and if you doubt that just read these positive self affirmations to boost your esteem. You doubt your life. You feel miserable some days. This means you’re still open to growth. This means you can be objective and self-aware. The best people go home at the end of the day and think: “or… maybe there’s another way……

Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2015/02/20-signs-youre-doing-better-than-you-think-you-are/

 

 

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The Neuroscience of Attention & Why Instructional Designers Should Know About It – Raluca C

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You know all those classic arguments couples have that begin with “I told you but you never listen!”? In truth, the listening part is not the issue, the remembering (or absence of) is the real problem. Paying attention is no easy thing and grabbing and holding someone’s attention is even trickier.

A fairly recent study calculated that the average attention span of a person has dropped from twelve to eight seconds, rendering us below the focusing capabilities of goldfish. Apparently this decrease is due to the fact that Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media.

On the plus side, the report found that people’s ability to multitask has dramatically improved. Researchers concluded that the changes were a result of the brain’s ability to adapt and change itself over time and a weaker attention span is a direct consequence of going mobile.

What instructional designers should know about brain wirings…

For e-learning designers who face the challenge of creating quality modules that facilitate information retention and transfer it’s important to know how the brain works when it comes to attention – this being the first step in any learning process.

When faced with the challenge of processing the huge amounts of information it is being presented with, the brain brings forth several control measures. First it prioritizes the different types of stimuli – it chooses what information to recognize and what to ignore as well as establishing a hierarchy of what item deserves how high a level of concentration.

The brain is also wired to connect any new information to prior knowledge to aid the understanding of a new idea as well as to get a better picture of broader concepts.

Last but not least, the amount of time a person spends focusing on a certain topic is also important – some things can be learned in a few minutes, others take much longer than that and also require some pause.

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Since concentration means effort and that is no favorite of anyone’s, it’s important for difficult information to be presented in an engaging way.

… And about the cortexes involved

What neuroscience tells us is that in order for people to start paying attention, the stimuli need to make the cut. The brain’s capacity to discern between these stimuli is located in two different areas: the prefrontal and parietal cortexes.

The first is located behind the forehead and spanning to the left and right sides of the brain and has to do with conscious concentration. It is an important wheel of the motivational system and helps a person focus attention on a goal. The parietal cortex lies right behind the ear and is activated when we face sudden events requiring some action – it is what kept the human race alive through numerous encounters with those who considered us dinner.

Of course, throwing in a really big threatening dinosaur at the beginning of an e-learning module is not the way to go but it helps to keep in mind that people become focused when action is required of them or when they see how a certain learning experience might help them achieve a personal goal.

How attention relates to memory

Attention is a cognitive process that is closely related to another very important aspect of learning: memory. A certain learning intervention is deemed successful when the participants are able to remember and apply what was taught. Otherwise it can be the best experience ever but with no real knowledge value.

The brain’s permanent goal is to filter the stimulus that is the most immediately relevant and valuable, so it is easiest to pay attention when information is interesting. Take televised documentaries for example. If the presentation, the script, the imagery and the voice-over are all working together, even the life of armadillos who don’t do much over a few months period can seem utterly fascinating.

For effective learning to take place, participants must focus their attention on the learning activity. It is the designer’s job to help them do so by including various elements and levels of interactivity. Simply presenting the information can prove highly counterproductive since typically the mind wanders up to 40% of the times we read something.

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Tips for getting learners’ attention

There are, of course, a lot of great ways to get and keep learner attention. Here are a few examples:

  • Using emotionally charged storytelling – there is nothing as engaging as a good narrative, emotionally spiked at its most important points;
  • Getting the learners involved with the content – interactivity is a must if the goal is to get people on board with learning;
  • Using great visuals – the reason for our decreasing attention is that we are assaulted by imagery; carefully choosing what and how learners see has great barring on their involvement with the program;
  • Linking new concepts with familiar ones – the brain works by making connections between what we already know and what is novelty to us. Designers should facilitate this process by including the best suited comparisons in the content;
  • Keeping it simple – if something is interestingly presented, people will search for more information on their own. Cluttering screens does not help them learn more but prevents them from taking away what is essential.

Bottom line

If the learning material is not engaging, learners will have a hard time paying attention and that will lead to poor results. In order to create interesting material, instructional designers need to be mindful of what neuroscientists have to say about how the human brain works and include meaningful situations and opportunities throughout the modules.

If everyone who read the articles and like it, that would be favorable to have your donations – Thank you.

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