Memory Maximizers: Social Interaction & AD Risk; Ignore Distractions for a Better Memory

Work Involving Social Interaction May Help Lower Risk for AD

Occupations that require dealing with complex social interactions, including volunteer activity, appears to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in older age, according to a study presented July 24, 2016 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto. Scientists performed brain scans of 284 healthy older adults, looked at their work histories, and tested their cognitive performance. The researchers ranked occupations by levels of complexity and brain challenge, putting pursuits that involved “mentoring” of other people at the top of the list as the most complex, and those that involve taking instructions or helping with basic tasks, at the bottom of the list as the least complex. More challenging pursuits are thought to help build up a cognitive reserve that helps the brain withstand the effects of injury and damage.

The scientists found that, even in participants whose brain scans showed early signs of AD, those who had worked or continued to work in jobs requiring significant person-to-person interactions in real time were the most likely to preserve cognitive functions, such as memory and problem-solving. Jobs with social interaction outranked other challenging jobs that did not involve social interaction, such as occupations involving complex data or complicated machinery. Examples of complex occupations that involved mentoring include physicians, social workers, school counselors, psychologists and pastors. Participants whose occupations involved taking instructions or helping, such as cashiers, laborers, machine operators, or grocery shelf stockers, were less able to maintain the ability to think and reason in the presence of early AD. The research does not suggest that individuals whose jobs involve little social interaction are doomed to dementia, since complex mentoring skills can be learned by volunteering for community activities such as the Boy Scouts or Little League, the study’s senior author pointed out. “Clearly, there are many avenues for someone to provide mentoring outside of the work environment.”

Strengthen the Ability to Ignore Distractions for a Better Memory

An individual’s short-term memory ability is directly linked to his or her ability to ignore distractions, research shows, suggesting that strategies that build concentration and focus might help boost memory. Scientists gave a group of volunteers tests designed to reveal short-term memory ability. They then used electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to detect the electrical activity in the study participants’ brains as they engaged in tasks in which they were required to ignore distractions. According to a report on the research published online Feb. 22, 2016 in PNAS, the results indicated a direct correlation between a participant’s short-term memory capacity and his or her ability to suppress distractions.

Try these four suggestions for improving the ability to concentrate and ignore distractions:

Set goals and strive to follow through on them without allowing interruption.

Eliminate noise or activity that interferes with your ability to focus. For example, turn off the car radio while listening to travel directions, move to a quiet room for important telephone conversations, or ask family members to leave you in peace while you’re balancing the budget.

Avoid multi-tasking. Trying to do too many things at once can result in confusion, mistakes, and forgetfulness. Do things one step at a time.

Control your inner dialogue. Try not to let errant thoughts interrupt your focus. When interrupting thoughts arise, push them gently aside.

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