You may have “senior moments.” Everyone does. You know, those times when your mind wanders when you’re performing a routine task. No big deal, right?
Most of the time.
These moments of cloudiness are typically related to a slight degradation in “executive function.” Executive function is the captain of your brain’s ship: It helps you plan, make decisions, and pay attention when needed.
But like most things, it peaked in your early-to-mid-twenties and has been on a slow and subtle decline over the past number of decades. You may notice more memory lapses these days than in the past.
If you notice a sudden drop off and are having trouble with concentration, making good decisions, having a hard time doing chores, or regularly misplacing things, it could signal something worth talking to a doctor about.
In many cases, however, finding ways to help keep you focused is enough. Maintaining focus and catching yourself losing concentration can promote better executive functioning and may result in strong memory going forward.
Some tactics that may help with concentration include:
Tracking when your mind trails: If you’re reading a book or watching a movie and notice your mind trailing off, make note of it. Figure out why it may have veered off course, and see if it is consistent with times of the day or certain activities. Tracking these lapses in focus can help you maintain attention when doing them, or schedule things where less focus is required if it is time-related.
Try mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation can train you to bring your mind back to the task at hand when you lose focus. It is also associated with lower levels of stress and anxiety, which can also play a role in concentration.
Eliminate potential distractions: Turning off your phone, closing the blinds, and shutting off devices with lights or sounds can all help keep focus. Limiting things that steal your attention when trying to focus can improve concentration and absorption.
Engage: Engaging both with humans and activities that tap into executive functions can also help maintain concentration. Challenging, but not overwhelming, activities can help keep executive function intact. Taking a language or dance class may help, as can doing puzzles, or learning a new hobby.
Keeping your executive function high so that senior moments are few and far between can help you feel good, maintain independence, and allow you to concentrate and focus on what you need to enjoy life.
Devon Andre holds a bachelor’s of forensic science from the University of Windsor in Canada and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh. Andre is a journalist for BelMarraHealth, which first published this article.