It usually goes something like this:
There is a whole bunch of stuff piled on a chair in the living room. It's been there too long and it is high time I sort it out to make the chair available again.
There are three or four cloth bags that should be in the car for shopping. That book I've been searching for over the previous week too. A bottle of hand sanitizer. A Theraband that belongs in a box across the room. A teeshirt that has no reason to be in the chair. A whole lot of loose pieces of paper with notes on them...
There's more, but you get the idea. I decide to walk the teeshirt to the laundry room (I can't remember if it was clean when I dropped it in the chair – hell, I don't even recall leaving it in the chair).
The washer is half full but, I figure, if I add what's in the laundry basket, I could get a good-sized wash done and be ahead of the game. I head for the bedroom.
The closet door, behind which is the laundry basket, squeaks – as it always does – so I check the cupboard to see if there is a can of WD40. Nope. Maybe it's in the storage room – I head in that direction.
On the way, as I pass the desk, it pops into my mind to check email – it will take only a couple of minutes - which is where I find myself a hour later at lunch time. That chair is still piled with stuff.
All too often these days, that is how it goes for me.
Relatedly, just a week ago we were talking about how greedy old age is, stealing our time in so many little ways – concentration among them - that I've been checking out what science knows about concentration in old age.
We are not imagining this phenomenon. From Harvard Health:
”...scientists now see the brain as continuously changing and developing across the entire life span. There is no period in life when the brain and its functions just hold steady. Some cognitive functions become weaker with age, while others actually improve.
“Some brain areas, including the hippocampus, shrink in size. The myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers wears down, which can slow the speed of communication between neurons.
“Some of the receptors on the surface of neurons that enable them to communicate with one another may not function as well as they once did. These changes can affect your ability to encode new information into your memory and retrieve information that's already in storage.
There have been a few studies targeting distraction itself rather than the brain in general. Psychology Today reported on a study showing that compared to young adults, old people have decreased brain activity in areas that enable concentration.
Other studies reveal that old people tend to have difficulty ignoring distractions and irrelevant stimuli that younger people easily tune out.
There are easy ways to improve concentration most of which we could figure out for ourselves (if we could just focus):
• Do not multitask
• Try meditating
• Exercise regularly
• Try caffeine (don't overdo)
• Take breaks
• Turn off distracting sounds
• Get a good night's sleep
One report tells us that about half of the older adults do not have this problem, and Harvard Health reports that as we age,
”...the branching of dendrites increases, and connections between distant brain areas strengthen. These changes enable the aging brain to become better at detecting relationships between diverse sources of information, capturing the big picture, and understanding the global implications of specific issues.
“Perhaps this is the foundation of wisdom. It is as if, with age, your brain becomes better at seeing the entire forest and worse at seeing the leaves.”
Now I'm going to go tackle the mess on that chair again.