Can Attention be Trained? Seniors (and Babies) Prove It Can

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Baby girl playing outdoorsWhen TV newscaster Diane Sawyer was asked the secret of her success, she said, “I think the one lesson I’ve learned is there is no substitute for paying attention.”

If you struggle with ADHD, however, that’s a lot easier said than done.

About 6 million children and teens have been diagnosed with ADHD, with an estimated four percent of U.S. adults struggling with the disorder as well.

The good news is that support and education help. Plus, there are things you can do. In fact, if you’re looking for something you can do to help yourself or a child who struggles, two studies on attention are worth, well, paying attention to.

Both studies indicate that attention can be trained. In other words, attention can be improved through exercises for the brain.

The first study, conducted by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, used fMRI technology to measure senior adults’ ability to filter out distractions. The question on the table was this: Could 8 hours of brain exercises improve senior adults’ ability to focus in the midst of distractions?

The eight hours of brain exercises included one-on-one mental workouts and group brain exercise programs.

“We used to think that with age, brain cells shriveled up, died, and that was that,” explains Paul Laurienti, lead scientist on the study. “Now we know that even an older brain can grow new, stronger connections.” Laurienti and his team discovered that the brain exercises did, indeed, improve participants’ ability to focus.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, another study came to the same conclusion—that attention can be trained—this time through research done with 11-month old infants. After training, the babies were able to focus attention for longer periods of time, and also ignore distractions better.

Even more significantly, the trained babies also focused better in a real-world-setting, when they were playing with toys.

Sam Wass of the University of London’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, highlighted the relationship between attention and success when he said, “The connection is an intuitively obvious one: the better a child is at concentrating…the better that child is going to learn.”

How much can brain exercises impact brain performance and attention? LearningRx, a company that specializes in brain training, says that ADHD is the most common diagnosis with which people come to them for help. They team students with one-on-one with personal trainers for mental exercises that strengthen three kinds of attention. Improvements are measured scientifically by independent pre- and post-training testing, and they are often dramatic.

If you struggle with attention—or you love someone who is struggling—don’t give up. Learn about ADHD. Research your options. Get help. Life really can be easier and simpler.

October is ADHD Awareness Month, and Diane Sawyer was right. In the grand scheme of life, there really isn’t any substitute for paying attention.

 

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