If you are 35 or older, you have had at least one moment when you cannot remember something you know well. At first, we laugh it off as a signal that we are just lacking a little sleep or we are too busy. But not having enough sleep, running on cortisone and adrenalin because there are too many deadlines in a day, being too busy to exercise or eat well is actually damaging that precious brain of yours.
We are all a little scared of Alzheimer’s and we have good reason to be scared. Although only 1% of people under 60 are affected by this horrible disease, it hits 10% of people between 65 and 74, 33% of those between 75 and 84 and 50% of those over 85.
How old will you be in 30 years?
There is good research now that indicates that we can delay or prevent the start of Alzheimer’s even if it is in your family genes. But the sooner you start deliberately taking care of your brain, the better for you.
If you are intent on keeping your brain healthy, then you must develop a way to continue your learning for your whole life. You must reduce your stress and get enough sleep. And you must exercise daily and eat food that is good for your brain and your body. Start by making sure you are getting some aerobic exercise, like walking, every day as this is the best and fastest way to slow the aging process.
The Multitasking Myth
Another thing you can do is to reduce the number of interruptions you have each day. People will argue that they can get more skilled at switching from one task to another and that is true if both tasks are familiar and relatively easy. But there is still a price of slower timing and reduced accuracy over being able to concentrate on one task at a time.
Research on people driving while talking on their cell phones shows that they’re a half-second slower to hit the brakes in an emergency than drivers who are not talking on their cell phones. A driver going at 70 mph travels 51 feet in a half-second. If you happen to be the unlucky pedestrian or another driver within that 51 feet, you’re going to be hit by a car traveling at 70 miles per hour!
The term multitasking comes from the computer world, where it appears as if you can run two or more programs on a computer simultaneously. In fact, what computers are doing is shifting tasks in and out of the central processing unit multiple times in less than a second. Computers can do that, but we can’t.
In 2009, researchers at Stanford University studied two groups of students. One group did a lot of multitasking on a daily basis and the other group did very little. The researchers expected to find that the high multitasking students were better at screening out irrelevant information, organizing their memories, and switching efficiently from one task to another. To their surprise, they found that the high multi-taskers were significantly worse at all three measures. They could not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who seldom multi-task.
Multitasking implies that we can actually perform two or more tasks at the same time, but we cannot divide our attention like that. What happens is that when our attention is on one task, it is as if the other does not exist. When we shift to the second task, we have to make the shift, orient to the new task, stimulate the neurons that relate to that task, get them actually moving forward on the task, and hopefully stay on the task long enough to get something done. We are able to shift rapidly between tasks, but every shift takes a little extra time and we are more likely to make mistakes. In addition, constant multitasking can increase our stress level.