How Aging Can Influence Concentration

Just as you may not be able to sprint as fast or jump as high as you could when you were a teenager, your brain's cognitive power—that is, your ability to comprehend information, recall, and solve problems—decreases with age.
How Aging Can Influence Concentration

You may find it more difficult to recall previously recognized facts or to divide your attention between two or more tasks or sources of information. Because these changes impair your capacity to focus, you may become more easily distracted than you were when you were younger.

Hearing loss, which is common with aging, makes distinguishing speech in a noisy setting more challenging. Because hearing requires more concentration than usual, even minor loss of focus can impair speech comprehension.

Most people begin to notice changes in their 50s and 60s. Although these changes can be concerning, the majority of age-related memory and cognitive impairments are not caused by an underlying brain disease such as Alzheimer's disease.

Instead, what appears to be a memory deficit may simply be a reduced processing speed and poor encoding and retrieval of new memories due to decreased attention. Even though your brain is slower to learn and recall new knowledge, your capacity to make sense of what you know and develop fair arguments and judgements is unaffected.

Many of these restrictions are reversible and related to insufficient sleep, but anatomical changes in your brain as you age can also explain some of these developments. Memory-processing brain regions, such as the hippocampus and notably the frontal lobes, undergo morphological and neurochemical changes over time.

As a result, it takes longer to acquire, process, and recall new knowledge as you become older. The natural loss of receptors and neurons that occurs with aging may also make concentration difficult. As a result, you not only learn knowledge more slowly, but you may also have more difficulty recalling it because you didn't completely understand it in the first place. Facts maintained in working memory may fade before you have an opportunity to solve a problem due to slower processing.

Furthermore, the capacity to complete tasks requiring executive function reduces with age. Many people learn to adjust for these shifts by depending on habit the majority of the time and making an extra effort to focus on new information they are attempting to learn.

Even the aches and pains of aging can impair concentration. Pain is distracting in and of itself, and some of the medications used to treat it can also impair focus.

What can we do to improve cognition?

Language learning
New languages create new neural connections, making neurons more disease-resistant and improving mental agility (Kroll, Dussias, Bice, & Perrotti, 2015).

Make or enjoy music
Emotions, memory, and movement are activated by music (Wan & Schlaug, 2010). Music listening and learning resources are free online.

Electronic, board, and card games
Card games are affordable and engaging for memory and strategy training. Trivial Pursuit improves fact recall, while Monopoly hones math, finance, and strategy. Strategy and 3D adventure games improve attention, short-term memory, and reaction time (Brilliant T, Nouchi, & Kawashima, 2019).

Travel, whether close or far, exposes us to new sights, sounds, and experiences that develop new neural connections, including "place cells" in the brain's memory circuits (Eichenbaum, Dudchenko, Wood, Shapiro, & Tanila, 1999).

Cultural outings
Films, plays, poetry readings, museum tours, etc. Seeing a foreign film, visiting a new museum, or reading a poet you've never read will challenge and stimulate your brain and create new neuronal connections (Park & Huang, 2010). Culture constantly rewires the brain.