By Sharon O'Brien
If you want stronger muscles, lift weights. And if you want a stronger brain—one that’s able to maintain concentration and avoid distractions—give your brain a workout of its own.Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found that attention training can change brain activity, giving older adults a greater ability to block distractions and improve concentration.
Why Do We Lose the Ability to Concentrate?
As people age, their brains change. One example, according to Paul Laurienti, M.D., Ph.D. and lead study researcher, is that older adults experience changes in how they perceive information the information their eyes and ears gather from the environment. This is called sensory integration—a tendency to combine information from different senses—and older adults experience it more readily than younger adults. Sensory integration can make it harder to block out distracting sights and sounds when you are trying to focus on a task.
Concentration Can Improve with Practice
The Wake Forest “Brain Fitness in Older Adults” (B-fit) study was designed to determine if eight hours of brain exercise can improve healthy older adults’ (ages 65 to 75 years) ability to filter out unwanted sights and sounds. And it works.
“There are a growing number of activities, from crossword puzzles to Sudoku, promoted as ways to keep our minds young,” said Jennifer Mozolic of Wake Forest, in a news release. “Our early data suggest that attention training is indeed a way to reduce older adults’ susceptibility to distracting stimuli and improve concentration.”
How the Concentration Study was Designed
The B-fit study uses MRI technology, visualizing blood flow and brain activity, to determine how attention training affects brain function. The training involves either a structured one-on-one mental work-out program or a group brain exercise program. In one-on-one sessions, subjects are asked to ignore distracting information, and tasks get harder as the eight-week training progresses. For the group sessions, participants learn new information relevant to healthy aging and they are tested on their ability to apply the new information.
As the sessions progressed, study participants increased their ability to ignore distractions and improve concentration. “This suggests that attention training is a potential way to improve sensory processing by reducing older adults’ susceptibility to distracting stimuli,” Mozolic said.
Want to Improve Your Concentration? Start with Free Puzzles
As you make time to exercise your body, make time to exercise your brain. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes every day to complete a crossword puzzle or other brain game, and see if it helps you improve concentration and your ability to screen out distractions.
Try these free puzzles that you can play online or print from your computer:
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Improve Concentration with Free Brain Games