With age comes wisdom–and structural changes in the brain. Specifically, as people cross over into their sixties, the brain’s hippocampus changes. And that’s the part of the brain that accesses memory and focus.
Neurochemical and structural changes to the brain are what slow us down, past sixty. These changes can make it harder to retain new information. That explains why someone over 65 may need to read each instruction twice or three times while putting together something that came in an Amazon package. Problem solving becomes more difficult if it relies on newly acquired information.
This doesn’t automatically signal dementia. A certain amount of memory loss and loss of focus are a normal part of aging.
What is executive function, and why does it matter?
Scientists refer to certain actions in the brain as “executive function.” Executive function takes its name from the corporate world where one executive oversees several other employees and coordinates their actions.
The ability to organize your day or your files, plan a series of events, and put things in a list are examples of executive function. The abilities to regulate emotion, know what’s appropriate in context, and exercise self-control are also executive functions. This executive function gets a little fuzzier as we age which explains why older people sometimes get lost in the middle of telling a story.
First lines of defense
While some loss of focus is inevitable as one ages, there are things you and your parent can do to mitigate the loss, including:
- Make sure your parent gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is common among the elderly, but it just makes loss of focus worse. Encourage your loved one to sleep in a quiet space with room darkening curtains, if needed. Relaxation exercises can also improve sleep.
- Make sure your parent’s hearing loss gets treated. Hearing loss makes loss of focus much worse and harder to deal with. Treating hearing loss with well prescribed hearing aids and ear wax removal is essential to a good old age.
- Help your parent form good habits. To compensate for loss of executive function, many older people form rituals like always brushing teeth at the same time every night, always parking in the same spot at the grocery store, always putting hearing aids in the same cup at night. These rituals do not make life tedious, they make it viable. By removing decision making about trivial routines, people over 65 free up brain function for learning new things and having new adventures. It’s a good idea to encourage these auto-piloted habits.
- Maybe make a cup of coffee. There’s good evidence that a small amount of caffeine improves focus. The operative phrase here is “small amount.” Caffeine provides diminishing results. A small amount sends a signal to the brain, akin to “wake up and smell me!” Too much caffeine, though, and the brain becomes accustomed to the stimulation, yawns, and says, “Yeah, more coffee coming through. Big deal.”
Elder care can provide a great deal of help with maintaining an older person’s focus and executive function. Elder care professionals will notice signs of hearing loss and, if called upon, take your mother or father to a hearing specialist. They can also make sure that your loved one is getting enough sleep.
In conclusion, a loss of focus is pretty much inevitable in old age, but that’s why they invented retirement. If your loved one enjoys a peaceful, independent existence with lots of friends and the love of family, this loss is fairly easy to accept. And it can be rather easily mitigated with enough sleep and the treatment of hearing loss.
If you or an aging loved one are considering Elder Care in Philadelpia, PA please contact the caring staff at True Direct Home Health Care today.
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