distraction in old age

Do you feel as though as you’ve gotten older, you find it a bit harder to concentrate on tasks? Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you went in there?

Well it seems that this common phenomena is actually a good thing in terms of problem solving. A new study has found that older people’s tendency to get distracted is in fact beneficial as it helps them to think outside the square and work out solutions to life’s problems.

As part of a study, published in 2015 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers at the University of Toronto and Harvard University found that the over 50s who had lower cognitive control (meaning you are less able to give tasks your full attention) were able to find solutions more creatively than younger people with higher levels.

So even though a younger person may perform better in a lab-controlled, single focus test, when it comes to solving problems and thinking creatively, an older person is more likely to come to the correct answer. In reality, these one-off tests don’t reflect real life, as most tasks that we do always have an element of distraction (such as noise or other people) that need to be taken into account.

PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Tarek Amer highlights the findings by saying that “The literature gives us the impression that older adults are essentially doomed as their cognitive abilities decrease, when, in reality, many older adults get along just fine in their day-to-day lives.”

The researchers hope to be able to determine what sorts of tasks actually benefit from having reduced cognitive control so that they can replicate these in a research setting. For now though it offers some insight into how our body copes as our brains age.

Did you notice a decrease in your focus and attention after hitting 50? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Related links:

The two most important things for brain health

How to say no to almost anything

Anxiety acts like a sixth sense