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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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New Psychological Studies: How The Wealthy Really Are Different From Everyone Else

"The rich don’t go with the flow"

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald is credited with saying: “The rich are different from you and me.” And Ernest Hemingway is supposed to have responded: “Yes, they have more money.” In fact, the actual words Fitzgerald used in his short story “The Rich Boy” (1926) are: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

People have always suspected that the rich are somehow ‘different,’ not only in terms of what they possess, but in their personalities. However, there are not many scientific studies that can either confirm or refute this thesis – neither in the United States, nor in Europe. Now, a team of six German economists and psychologists has conducted a large-scale study: They interviewed 130 wealthy individuals and used the results to derive a psychological profile, which they compared with the population as a whole.

Big Five Test

Of the various models developed by psychological researchers to describe personality types, it is the Big Five model that has largely come to dominate over the past few decades. This latest wealth study used a condensed version of the Big Five test to distinguish between five core personality traits:

Conscientious: Describes people who are thorough, meticulous, diligent, efficient, well organized,  punctual, ambitious and persevering.

Neuroticism: Individuals with a high degree of Neuroticism tend to be nervous and frequently worry about everything and anything that could possibly go wrong. They tend to react impulsively and, overall, are not particularly psychologically stable.

Agreeableness: Individuals with high levels of Agreeableness have a pronounced desire for harmony; they have a tendency to back down too quickly and are frequently too trusting.

Extraversion: Individuals with high Extraversion are talkative, determined, enterprising, energetic, and courageous.

Openness to Experience: Individuals with high Openness to Experience are imaginative, creative, and curious.

When you compare the personality traits of the general population with those of the researchers’ wealthy interviewees, the following patterns emerge:

  • The rich are emotionally more stable, and therefore less neurotic
  • The rich are especially extraverted
  • The rich are more open to new experiences
  • The rich are less agreeable, which means they less likely to shy away from conflicts
  • The rich are more conscientious.

In addition to the Big Five test, the researchers also investigated two other personality traits: narcissism and internal locus of control. Their findings:

  • The rich are more narcissistic
  • The rich exhibit a stronger internal locus of control. This means that they are more likely to agree with statements such as “I determine how my life turns out” than they are with statements like “What you achieve in life is mainly a question of luck or fate.”

What Makes the Superrich Tick

The results of this latest wealth study are consistent with those of my doctoral dissertation on “The Wealth Elite,” which was based on interviews with 45 wealthy individuals. With only a few exceptions, most of the interviewees were self-made millionaires, and the ‘poorest’ were worth between 10 million and 30 million euros. Most, however, were worth significantly more, between 30 million and one billion euros, and some even more.

This study on the psychology of the superrich also came to the conclusion that the rich are psychologically very stable (i.e. not very neurotic). It also showed that they are particularly open to new experiences, more extraverted, more conscientious – but not necessarily agreeable.

In contrast to the recent survey of 130 wealthy individuals mentioned above, the study of the superrich involved in-depth interviews of between one and two hours each. In addition, the superrich interviewees not only completed a condensed version of the Big Five test, they took the detailed version with 50 questions.

One of the key findings was that the superrich are frequently nonconformists. They enjoy swimming against the prevailing current and have no problem contradicting prevailing opinion. Another result: the superrich are more likely than others to make decisions based on gut feeling. They tend to rely more on intuition than on detailed analysis.

And, most importantly, they have a completely different approach to dealing with defeats and setbacks than most people. Across the population at large, people like to take credit for their successes while looking to assign the blame to others for defeats and setbacks. In this, the superrich are quite different, as the interviews showed: They seek to identify the causes of setbacks in themselves, not in external circumstances or other people. This gives them a feeling of power: “If the fault lies with me, I can change it. I am in control of my own life.” There are many reasons why some people succeed in becoming rich and others don’t, but the specific combination of personality traits that both studies identified is certainly one of the reasons. Rich people become rich because they act differently from others. And they act differently because they think, make decisions and react differently than most people. Apparently, Fitzgerald was right: “The rich are different from you and me.”

I was awarded my first doctorate in history in 1986 and my second, this time in sociology, in 2016.

Source: New Psychological Studies: How The Wealthy Really Are Different From Everyone Else

Childhood Emotional Neglect And Codependency

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What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Do you feel empty and disconnected? Do you sense that you’re different than everyone else, but you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong? Childhood Emotional Neglect is a powerful experience, but one that often goes unnoticed and untreated. In fact, many people who experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) describe their childhood as “good” and it’s only on closer examination that they recognize that something important was missing.

Your childhood experiences played a huge part in shaping you into the adult you are today. Children rely on their parents to meet their physical and emotional needs. And significant, but invisible, damage is done when parents fail to meet their children’s emotional needs.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is the result of your parent’s inability to validate and respond adequately to your emotional needs. Childhood emotional neglect can be hard to identify because it’s what didn’t happen in your childhood. It doesn’t leave any visible bruises or scars, but it’s hurtful and confusing for children.

Dr. Webb told me via email that “CEN happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs while they are raising you. When you grow up this way, you learn the powerful lesson that your emotions do not matter, and you then continue to live your life this way. There are legions of people walking around with an empty space where their own lively feelings should be. Sadly, they all are lacking healthy access to a vital resource from within that could be connecting, motivating, guiding and enriching them: their own feelings.”

What does Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) look like?

In an emotionally neglectful family, you might have come home upset because you didn’t make the basketball team, but when you tried to talk to your Mom about it, she shooed you away saying she was busy working. And when your grandma died your father told you “boys don’t cry” and no one helped you process your grief. Or it might have been that you spent hours and hours isolated in your room as a teenager and no one asked how you were feeling or if something was wrong. When this happens consistently, you feel unloved and unseen.

CEN can co-occur with physical abuse and neglect and is rampant in families where a parent is addicted to drugs, alcohol, or any compulsive behavior, or mentally ill. But many people who experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect grew up in families without obvious dysfunction. They weren’t beaten or belittled. Their parents were well-meaning but lacked the emotional skills themselves to notice and tend to their children’s feelings. Such parents never learned to cope with their feelings or express them in healthy ways and don’t know how to deal with their children’s feelings either.

Many adults who experienced emotional neglect look like they’ve got it all together on the outside. They’re successful and have a happy family, but there’s a nagging sense of emptiness, not fitting in, and that they’re different, but there isn’t anything obviously wrong.

Symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect include:

  • Emptiness
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling something’s fundamentally wrong with you
  • Feeling unfulfilled even when you’re successful
  • Difficulty connecting with most of your feelings, not feeling anything
  • Burying, avoiding, or numbing your feelings
  • Feeling out of place or like you don’t fit in
  • Difficulty asking for help and not wanting to depend on others
  • Depression and anxiety
  • High levels of guilt, shame, and/or anger
  • Lack of deep, intimate connection with your friends and spouse
  • Feeling different, unimportant or inadequate
  • Difficult with self-control (this could be overeating or drinking)
  • People-pleasing and focusing on other people’s needs
  • Not having a good sense of who you are, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses

What are the effects of childhood emotional neglect?

Your feelings are a core part of who you are, so when they aren’t noticed or validated you come to believe that you aren’t important because you aren’t “seen” and known. In emotionally neglectful families, the message is that feelings don’t matter, they’re an inconvenience, or they’re wrong. Naturally, you learn not to value your feelings; you push your feelings away or numb them with food, alcohol, drugs, or sex.

When your emotional needs aren’t met and your internal state isn’t acknowledged, you’ll be disconnected from yourself. You will constantly seek attention and try to prove your worth through clingy or needy behaviors, perfectionism, overworking, and achievements. But these external validations never fix the problem; they never leave you feeling good enough.

Feelings serve to let us know what we need. For example, if you don’t notice when you’re getting frustrated, you won’t be able to find a healthy resolution or outlet for your anger and you’re likely to let it fester until you explode.

Lack of emotional attunement also makes it hard for you to deeply connect with others and understand your spouse and children’s feelings.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and Codependency

I have been counseling Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and people struggling with codependency for almost two decades. When I started learning about Childhood Emotional Neglect, I immediately noticed a big overlap between CEN and codependency or ACOA issues. It makes sense that if you grew up with an alcoholic or otherwise impaired caregiver, your emotional needs weren’t noticed and met.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and codependency have the same root cause. Both begin in childhood and tend to be passed unknowingly from one generation to the next. CEN and codependency aren’t the result of you being inadequate or doing something “wrong”, but they continue to make it difficult for you to have a healthy loving relationship with yourself and others in adulthood.

Individuals with CEN and codependency have in common a tendency toward:

  • Perfectionism
  • People-pleasing
  • Low self-worth, feeling inadequate
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Lack of awareness of their feelings
  • Discomfort with strong emotions
  • Putting other people’s needs before their own
  • Difficulty trusting
  • Difficulty asserting their needs

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