Memory and the Distraction Factor

How many times have you wondered where you put your keys, the remote or an important piece of paper? Many years ago a gentleman who attended many of my memory fitness programs gave me an interesting graph. It suggested that 30% of your life is spent either working or playing, another 30% sleeping, 10% eating and the remaining 30% spent looking for something that was in your hand one minute ago.  How true that can be!

Since even a 6 second interruption can result in losing your train of thought, begin to observe when your focus gets interrupted and what draws you in. Every day I hear someone express a fear that they are getting dementia or maybe Alzheimer’s disease like another family member. In many cases the person may just be stressed and distracted or on overload and not maximizing their memory potential.

Doing home health care as a speech-language pathologist, I am always curious to see how families handle the television which is usually on. More often than not, they do not turn it off and some get annoyed when asked. Consider what happens when you combine a hearing loss with the background noise of a TV and someone trying to carry on a meaningful conversation when there are memory challenges. It is likely that information will be missed, misunderstood or not even processed correctly. Is it selective hearing or does the person need improved listening skills?  With the high rate of usage of electronic devices, it is likely that while a person is texting, checking messages or on their Facebook account that they are task switching.

Studies repeatedly talk about the fact that when a person is multitasking there is an increase in errors and students perform worse on tests and recall less information. Many teachers voice concerns on how to best handle distractions in the classrooms to maximize the learning experience of their students. This is a new challenge for those of us presenting educational programs for professionals. Participants are frequently using a device repeatedly and are noticeably not as creative when asked for their input in group discussions about applying the information that had been discussed to a variety of situations.

Another important consideration is the choices you make when talking with an older adult. Since one of the changes with normal aging is not liking or wanting to multitask, many older adults are frustrated with what they perceive to be a lack of attention when in the company of those who seem to be constantly texting.  While they may not be doing it themselves, being in conversation with someone who is switching back and forth can make it harder for them to follow what is being said, remember what they were going to say or they may lose some details in the process because they are feeling stressed and lost their focus.

Consider your choices. Distractions will not be disappearing so create some effective strategies to better manage the impact it has on your ability to remember and consider others when it comes to multitasking etiquette.

The quality of one’s life depends on the quality of attention.  Whatever you pay attention to  will grow more important in your life. Deepak Chopra

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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