Computers. Cellphones. Email. Texting. With a growing number of digital distractions, it is increasingly difficult to maintain undivided attention. Focusing on one task at a time can be even more challenging for the estimated 8 to 9 million people in the U.S. living with attention deficit disorders.
A new discovery by scientists in Canada could soon offer relief. Their study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, is the first research to find out how the brain ignores visual distractions in order to focus on one thing at a time. They say the discovery could help doctors better treat patients with distraction-related attention deficits. And it could lead to wider benefits as well.
"Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments," the study's lead author says. "There are individual differences in the ability to deal with distraction. New electronic products are designed to grab attention. Suppressing such signals takes effort, and sometimes people can't seem to do it."
Managing My Brain Health
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common childhood disorders, and it can also continue into adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, controlling behavior, and hyperactivity, according to the National Institute of Mental health.
The average age of onset is 7 years old. ADHD affects about 4 percent of adults and 9 percent of children age 13 to 18. Boys are four times more likely to have it than girls. Studies show the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD is increasing, but it is unclear why. The reasons for the rise in the disorder have also been hotly debated.
– Consult your physician about treatments or medications that may help you or your child.
Tips to help children with attention disorders, from the National Institute of Mental health:
– Schedule. Keep the same routine every day, from wake-up time to bedtime. Include time for homework, outdoor play, and indoor activities. Keep the schedule on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board in the kitchen. Write changes on the schedule as far in advance as possible.
– Organize everyday items. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. This includes clothing, backpacks, and toys. Use homework and notebook organizers. Use organizers for school material and supplies. Stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home the necessary books.
– Be clear and consistent. Children with ADHD need consistent rules they can understand and follow. Give praise or rewards when rules are followed. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism. Look for good behavior, and praise it.
Information for adults with attention disorders from the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
– According to the NIH, many adults with attention disorders don’t know they have them. They may feel that it is impossible to get organized, stick to a job, or remember and keep appointments. Daily tasks such as getting up in the morning, preparing to leave the house for work, arriving at work on time, and being productive on the job can be especially challenging for adults with ADHD.
– These adults may have a history of failure at school, problems at work, or difficult or failed relationships. Many have had multiple traffic accidents. Like teens, adults with ADHD may seem restless and may try to do several things at once, most of them unsuccessfully. They also tend to prefer "quick fixes," rather than taking the steps needed to achieve greater rewards.
Read more about attention deficit disorders from Mayo Clinic.