Clean Air for Cognitive Function: How Breathing Easy Helps Your Brain Behavior

Bob Gottfried Clean AirEveryone is familiar with the mental lethargy the slowly but steadily tends to creep over you during a long day at the office. It can be tempting to the feel as though your workplace is draining the brainpower right out of your head at times! For some people, that gut feeling is far from incorrect. A study from Harvard found that individuals who work in modern buildings, designed expressly to guarantee good air circulation and excellent lighting, are both happier and more productive at their place of employment.

There is no lack of media coverage regarding air pollution and CO2 growing presence in our planet’s atmosphere, but much less of the conversation usually revolves around indoor air pollution. This is unfortunate because there is a lot to know. The concept of building-related health issues (or sick building syndrome) extends back at least thirty years. By the 1970s, organizations were reporting concerns about the costs associated with health problems directly caused by a poor indoor environment. At the time, the EPA found that indoor air could be as much as times more polluted than the air outside. Since then, the body of research about indoor air pollution and its relationship to health, productivity, and learning has grown exponentially. The scope of this work has only recently expanded to include the impact indoor pollution may have explicitly on cognitive function.

The research team from Harvard found evidence to confirm that these correlations do in fact exist, as well as why. Led by Joseph Allen, the study is named Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments.

Allen’s team tracked the behavior of two dozen people as the completed six full work days under three different conditions. One was in a conventional building with high Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The second condition was in a green building with low VOC levels. Finally, the study participants worked in a green building with both low VOC counts and ventilation from the outside. At the end of the study, Allen and his associates concluded that cognitive scores were, on average, over 60% better when participants were working in building with low pollution. On days when cognitive ability was measured in  green buildings with great outdoor air ventilation, scores rose by over 100%. Clearly, if you are looking to sharpen your cognitive function, one of the easiest and most effective things you can do is remember to take a breath – of fresh and clean air.

Stay Fit to Stay Sharp: Physical Activity Encourages Improved Cognitive Function

Fitness for Cognitive FunctionThe number of excellent reasons there are to stay in great shape seems to grow daily. There is an enormous body of scientific literature that confirms an incredibly wide range of benefits that the human body derives from remaining physically active. The most obvious benefits are well-known to basically everyone at this point. From childhood, the connection between physical fitness and physical health is made clearly apparent. Although obesity is a rising epidemic in the developed world, most adults are well aware of at least a few very good reasons that they should exercise regularly.

Unfortunately, finding the motivation to actually make a change can be very challenging. However, the increasing amount of research indicating a direct connection between physical activity and cognitive function may be enough to tip the scales when it comes to healthy life habits. The scientific community is steadily progressing towards an undisputed consensus that it is not just your waistline, heart, or cholesterol that relies on getting enough exercise – your very mind could be at risk if you fail to get up and get moving.

Last year, a team of researchers out of the University of Minnesota concluded that young adults who consistently participate in aerobic exercise maintain thinking and memory skills well into their middle-aged years. 2,747 healthy people with an average age of 25 took a treadmill assessment twenty years ago, and then again after two decades had passed. Cognitive tests analyzed a number of metrics, including verbal memory, psychomotor speed, and executive function. The team found that better performance in every category was aligned with better cardiorespiratory fitness 25 years before. Essentially, the fitter a participant was in youth, the sharper they were when they aged.

Another study completed by the University of Eastern Finland discovered that middle-aged individuals who live a physically active lifestyle are measurably protected from the onset of dementia once they are elderly. Study participants who took part in some sort of exercise at least twice a week exhibited a lower incidence of dementia than those who were less physically active. Their research also indicated it is never too late to start, if you are interested in reaping the cognitive function benefits. Even adopting healthy exercise habits after midlife revealed a decrease in the prevalence of dementia. Similarly, people who participated in leisure-time physical activity at least twice a week were also less likely to succumb to dementia. All this holds especially true for individuals who are overweight or obese at midlife. It is possible these results could impact how exercise interventions are structured and instituted to prevent cognitive deterioration and extend the quality of life of patients

It is already established in neuroscience that the brain-derived neurotrophic factor released during aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons. Recently, science has even begun to identify an “exercise hormone” dubbed Irisin that is associated with improved health and cognitive function. Hopefully, knowing that staying fit will keep you bright well into your later years will be enough to inspire an even greater societal shift towards healthier living.

Sleep Your Way to a Better Day: Rest & Cognitive Function

Ask any healthcare provider or expert and he or she will gladly attest to the importance getting enough sleep for physical well being. Whether your goal is losing weight or just maintaining a healthy lifestyle, sufficient sleep plays a critical role in improving your body composition. Unfortunately, modern society can make prioritizing our rest an increasingly formidable challenge. When you consider the extent to which technology and contemporary culture emphasize work productivity and offer so many options for distractions, it is easy to see how so many individuals fail to sleep for anywhere near their optimal amount of time.

The consequences of this trend, however, impact more than just your physical health. Sleep deprivation and impaired sleeping pattern also compromise your cognitive function. This can create a negative feedback loop, especially in regards to your work or school life, where you stay up late to complete tasks, do not get enough sleep to mentally excel during the day, and thus fall behind so you need to stay up even later. This cycle is critical to break, not only because it adversely affects your productivity, but also because of increased stress and the effect on your emotional being.

Acute and/or chronic sleep deprivation inevitably detract from your ability to both think and learn. The science community is also in agreement that a loss of alertness and attention also results, a conclusion for which the anecdotal evidence is wildly abundant. This inability to focus indicates a series of lapses or slowed responses – in short, sleep deprivation causes waking-state instability in cognitive processes like working memory. Certain mental skills are more dramatically impacted than others, like creativity or the ability to innovate. However, cognitive function in terms of reaction times, memory assignments, and reasoning skills all also end up significantly impaired by acute sleep loss.

So, it is obviously important to take getting to bed and enjoying enough sleep seriously. If you are struggling with cognitive issues, evaluate whether or not you are sufficiently rested. The signs that you may be struggling with sleep deprivation are much more nuanced than just being vaguely tired. Many individuals become accustomed to adequately performing with an inadequate amount of sleep, so that they do not realize they are not operating to their fullest potential. Consider if you suffer from a lack of motivation, if you are irritable or moody, if you are unable to cope with stress, if you struggle with memory problems, if you lack enough energy to sustain the day to day activities, or if you gain weight easily. All that and more might very well indicate that you need to get to bed earlier or stay in bed later. Remove all distractions (especially electronic ones!) at least an hour before you end your evening and start taking care of yourself by finally taking sleep seriously.

Memory and Learning

What is memory?

Memory can be defined as the process of storing, sorting and retrieving information.  Margaret W. Matlin, a cognitive psychologist simplified the definition of memory by describing it as the “process of retaining information over time.”

Understanding the way memory works and why it sometimes doesn’t, is the first step in understanding how we can improve our memory capacity in order to learn more efficiently. This article seeks to explore many aspects of memory, including how it works, the different types of memory, how memory affects learning, why we forget things, and the effects that aging and stress have on memory.

How Does Memory Work?

While in the past this process was thought to be simple enough to be compared to a file cabinet of stored information, recent studies have revealed that creating and recalling memories is quite a complex process, and it involves  many areas  of the brain. Memory begins with perception. When you experience something, the hypothalamus and parts of the frontal lobe collect information. From there, your brain decides what perceived items are significant enough to be remembered and stores them effectively.

Your memory is actually made up entirely of electrical signals, all fired in a particular order by neurons, which constantly change. When the neurons are consistently fired in the same order, you will remember something much better. This is particularly true when working on memorizing something such as a piece of music. Repeated practices will make the music easier to play because the neurons remember the order. However, if you don’t practice for a while, the pathway is forgotten as well as the musical piece.

Different Types of Memory

There are a number of different types of memory, many of which work together to form memories.

Short-term memory. This is considered to be anything that has occurred very recently and  is readily available for recall. People who have problems with short-term memory may not remember what they had for breakfast, but they may easily be able to remember their favorite elementary school teacher.

Working memory. This is a system that temporarily stores information necessary to perform different cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.

Implicit memory. This is the ability to use your past experiences to unconsciously remember various things. A subset of this type of memory is procedural memory. Athletes and artists are said to have strong procedural memories as they are easily able to perform a number of different motor skills without having to consciously think about them.

Explicit or declarative memory. This is the ability to recall specific information about something, which usually involves some conscious effort. An example of this would be remembering when your best friend’s birthday is.

Episodic memory. This type of memory is what allows you to remember where you were, who you were with, and how you felt during specific events in your life. The most memorable of these events are the ones that are emotionally-charged.

How Does Memory Affect Learning?

While your eyes and ears may take in every single thing as you are learning, your brain will filter through what it believes to be most important. In regards to learning, that means that not every bit of information will be learned. Because not all information will be stored, it is important to take steps in order to be certain that you remember everything that you need to remember by working with the different types of memory, depending on what you are learning. It is also important to note that everyone learns differently. Some learn and remember best with visual input, others with audible input, and others have to be physically involved to remember something. Effective learning usually involves more than one sense, for instance, visual, auditory and kinesthetic. By seeing, hearing and when relevant touching (or it could be writing), the brain further cements data related to the topic learned.

Why Do We Forget Things?

As indicated earlier, memories are formed with the firing of certain paths in the brain. A disconnection or interruption in these neuropathways can cause you to forget something in the short term. The information may not have been stored properly in the first place, or else another memory or thought process is blocking your ability to pull up specific information.

Another reason that we forget things is that the brain is always changing. That means that the neuropathways actually change every time we recall a memory. Sometimes, this causes memories to change over time based on what we are thinking or feeling at the time of recalling that memory. If a certain memory is not accessed regularly, the pathways may change so much that the memory cannot be readily accessed.

What Effects Does Aging Have on Memory?

As we age, the connections that were once strong and vibrant begin to falter. There is also a natural shrinkage of the brain that occurs and a steady loss of brain cells in important parts of the brain. This process begins in your 20s and will continue throughout your life. The faltering of these brain cells can adversely affect short-term memory, as well as lessen the ability to bring up episodic memories or explicit memories. The good news is that while memory does decline over time, studies have shown that many people in their 70s perform equally as well as those in their 20s when it comes to various cognitive tests.

The Effect of Stress on Memory

Stress also plays a role in short-term memory loss. This is because things that cause stress in our life occupy a great deal of our brain and don’t allow much room for concentrating on processing and remembering things. Stress can block short-term memory by not allowing the brain to properly remember the received information in the first place. Long-term memories  can also be blocked in a moment of stress, like not remembering your own phone number when you are extremely anxious.

Learning and applying sound stress management techniques can help in improving memory and learning.

Can memory be improved?

Absolutely, and at any age. There are numerous memory improvement exercises and games that can improve memory to a certain degree.  One of the best memory enhancement programs to significantly enhance focus, attention and memory was developed at the ACEclinics in Toronto, Canada. While the program was developed mainly for individuals suffering from Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD, ADHD), Learning disabilities (LD), and head/brain injuries, it has been successfully used by ordinary individuals who just wanted to improve their memory capacity, in general. It is a scientific,  innovative method that will dramatically improve the ability to remember names, to-do lists, numbers, abstract information both short and long term, as well as improve working memory – a cognitive capacity essential  in processing information. The program works on improving both visual and auditory based memory processing. More information can be obtained here:


Understanding the way memory works is the first step to improving your memory and ability to recall information. Some factors involved in the process of storing and recalling information  include age,  drug or alcohol use, genetics, diet, sleep and exercise. By finding out what works best for you, you can begin to combat the things that have negatively affected your memory and work to improve it at any age.

Assessing and Treating Dyslexia

Dyslexia is predominately a reading disorder. The main symptoms include the inability to read properly, spell correctly and at times even write efficiently. Generally, dyslexia is considered a language-based impairment, and it is the most common learning disability. People who have dyslexia experience difficulties processing read material. They tend to read slower than others, often skipping words, even complete sentences. They tend to skim rather than read material thoroughly. They may have problems sounding out words, and their speech might at times sound confused or unclear.

Dyslexia is inherited. Most times it can be seen in one of the parents, other times in relatives. It is believed that 5 to 10 percent of the population in North America is suffering from this learning disability.

Dyslexia does not mean that the person is not intelligent or lazy. Only that he or she learns differently. Albert Einstein, as an example, was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was younger.

Children with dyslexia may show excess frustration associated with their deficiencies. They may also exhibit poor self-confidence and self-esteem and low motivation to succeed. Often times they give up quickly, when they find it difficult to perform. In more extreme cases, dyslexia can lead to depression.

A series of tests can verify the impairment. The tests mainly focus on expressive oral language as well as written language, intellectual functioning, educational success, cognitive process and receptive oral and written language. The tests are adjusted to the age of the person being tested. The diagnostic process of dyslexia is slightly different for younger children. The tests are not only confined to check for dyslexia, but can also be used to find other learning and attention-related problems such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and central auditory processing disorder. A large percentage of the dyslexic population is indeed co-experiencing symptoms of ADHD, such as the inability to sustain attention, day dreaming, losing track in conversations and problems with executive functions, such as organizing, prioritizing, decision- making and time management.

Recently, more advanced testing modalities have been developed to assess function of the frontal region of the brain using advanced EEG technology. When combined with core skills and working memory testing, it can shed more light on the specific deficiencies associated with the condition. Identifying these weak areas in the cognitive process is paramount in order to treat the condition successfully.

It’s important to recognize dyslexia at an early age. In order to help throughout the process of learning, a child can use educational tools to increase his or her reading ability. Educating yourself about this learning disorder can be very helpful in helping your child deal with the condition. An Individualized Education Programme (IEP) is often established at school to assist a child diagnosed with this learning disorder. It is important for the child’s school and teachers to know about the child’s specific deficiencies. Until recently, dyslexia has been regarded as a lifelong condition, and therefore, it was (and still is) important to observe the reading habits of the child and get additional help for the child when needed.

People with dyslexia can be quite intuitive. They are able to sense emotions of others, but they get easily distracted as well. Other difficulties associated with dyslexia include mispronouncing or misusing of words, remembering faces but not names, inability to remember and follow verbal instructions and confusing directions. Individuals with dyslexia may experience short-term memory when it comes to facts and events. They may have difficulty in following procedures and routines. They usually need to write down notes in order to remember information.

While learning how to deal with dyslexia is important, correcting deeper neurological structures in the frontal cortex may hold the key for a significant improvement in cognitive function.

Neuro-cognitive therapy and training have shown excellent results in the treatment of dyslexia, with marked improvement on all levels of cognitive performance. Improving brain regulation combined with developing core cognitive skills such as visual processing, auditory processing, divided attention, multitasking, and working memory, can contribute to considerable and permanent gains on all aspects of cognitive function, and significantly reduce symptoms.

The ACEclinics in Toronto, Canada, headed by Bob Gottfried, PhD is a pioneer in this field. The clinic specializes in assessment and treatment of, learning disabilities (LD), such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, CAPD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), non-specific neuro-cognitive deficiencies and memory disorders.

More information can be obtained on their website:

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Assessment and Treatment of Learning Disabilities

It can be disheartening to learn that your child has a learning disability. It is, however, very important to know that this does not mean that the child lacks intellect. Your child can be smart, yet still experience significant cognitive difficulties. Learning disabilities are characterized by a certain level of brain impairment to receive, store, analyze and process information.

Naturally, children with a learning disorder will grow up to be adults with learning disabilities, which is why early intervention is always preferable.

There are different types of learning disabilities, but in general, they will affect one or more of a person’s cognitive abilities such as reading, listening, reasoning, writing and doing basic math. Certain learning disorders can also be linked to difficulties with motor skills. Almost without exception, individuals having a learning disability will also have problems concentrating, focusing and remembering certain information. Children with learning disabilities may hear, see and think differently as their brain operates in a different manner.

As a parent, it is important to identify your child’s disability at an early stage so that your child can learn how to deal with the condition, or better yet receive specialized treatment of learning disabilities, which will make it easier for the child to process information. That, in turn, would improve all aspects of learning.

Types of learning disabilities


  • Dyslexia is predominantly a reading disability. It manifests itself in a number of ways. The child may not be able to comprehend the correlation between alphabets or words and their sounds. Skipping words even sentences when reading is quite common. Spelling may also be a challenge. Other typical signs that characterize dyslexia include taking a long time to read, mixing up letters in a word, and inability to retain read material.
  • Dysgraphia is a writing disability, which can become very restrictive when a child or an adult suffering from this learning disability is having difficulty with penning down their thoughts on paper. The child will typically have problems with grammar and with writing complete sentences. This disability is characterized by grammatically unclear and incomplete sentences. Other symptoms related to this disability include: poor grip of a pen or pencil and messy handwriting. The person may express himself/herself verbally well but unable to write thoughts on paper, coherently.
  • Dyscalculia, is a math-related disability that affects the recognition of numbers and the understanding of simple mathematical concepts. The symptoms include: inability to recollect a number sequence, confusion with numbers that look similar, problems during money transactions like counting money or calculating change, difficulty with basic mathematical functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Even simple counting and telling the time could be difficult for those experiencing dyscalculia.
  • The auditory disability also called Central Auditory Process Disorder (CAPD, or APD) involves a child’s auditory processing ability, which affects understanding of information received verbally. The signs to watch out for include inability to follow instructions, inaccurate pronunciation, inability to understand conversations or part of them, sensitivity to background sounds, difficulty with processing any type of information that requires listening.
  • Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) also referred to as nonverbal learning disability has to do with nonverbal skills. The condition manifests itself in poor fine motor skills and coordination, poor social skills, although the child may do well academically. This disability shows itself through signs that include the inability to discern facial expressions, questioning more than usual, complaining about being frequently misunderstood, difficulties with reading, writing, doing math and inability to handle any disruption in their daily routine.
  • Visual Processing disorder disrupts a child’s ability to handle and process information received visually. The symptoms include: poor spelling, copying words and getting disorientated while reading.
  • Aphasia is a language-based disability that affects the child’s ability to express their thoughts and understanding of both written and spoken language. Signs that indicate this disorder include difficulty with understanding written material, speaking incomplete sentences or unrecognizable words.
  • Dyspraxia also known as Sensory Integration Disorder and is a learning disability that affects fine motor skills (such as writing, using tools like scissors or buttoning a shirt) and/or gross motor skills (such as running, jumping, throwing, hitting or catching a ball).The condition is also characterized by poor eye-hand coordination.


A learning disability is often combined with attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD). Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with kids (and adults) experiencing a learning disability, is that they suffer from low self-esteem and low self-confidence, which can have a detrimental effect on their performance and achievements in life.

Assessing your child’s disability

Assessment of learning disabilities consists of various steps- testing of learning disabilities and specific aspects of the learning process. Lately, more modern neuro-cognitive assessment tools have been developed to point out specifically different cognitive deficiencies.

New technologies to assess frontal lobe function have helped in both assessing and treating all types of learning disabilities. While teaching kids how to improve and better deal with their deficiencies is important, correcting deeper neurological structures in the frontal cortex is very important. Neuro cognitive therapy and training have shown excellent results in the treatment of learning disabilities with marked improvement on all levels. Improving brain regulation combined with developing core cognitive skills such as visual processing, auditory processing, divided attention, multitasking, and working memory, can contribute to considerable and permanent gains in cognitive performance and significant reduction in symptoms.

The ACEclinics in Toronto, Canada, headed by Bob Gottfried, PhD is a pioneer in this field. The clinic specializes in assessment and treatment of, learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), non-specific neuro-cognitive deficiencies and memory disorders.

For more information please contact:
Toronto, Canada
416 222 0004

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder- ADHD is a neuro-cognitive disorder. In most cases, it will continue through one’s adolescence and adulthood. It involves difficulty in concentrating for a long period of time, difficulty to control behaviour, and sometimes emotions, which can hamper a child’s performance in school, home as well as adversely affect relations with other children. Although ADHD cannot be cured, there are advanced neuro-cognitive treatment programs to correct the underlying deficiencies and resolve, or significantly improve most symptoms of ADHD.

The symptoms of ADHD in children include getting easily distracted, missing details, forgetting things, difficulty in organizing and completing tasks, losing things, difficulty with listening when spoken to, daydreaming, struggling to follow instructions, fidgeting, excessive talking, inability to sit in one place for too long, impatience, blurting inappropriate remarks, acting without restraint, interrupting others, becoming easily bored and more. In case of ADHD in children, a child must have symptoms such as lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness for 6 or months or more and in greater degree than other children of the same age. The symptoms of ADHD in children may start appearing before the age of six. Some kids do not display signs of hyperactivity and restlessness and are therefore categorized under the inattention subtype. It is difficult to spot ADHD in children as some symptoms may appear in some situations and not in others, but if ADHD symptoms persist consistently, it is important to do a specialized ADHD assessment with an experienced clinician, in order to identify the underlying causes of the condition.

The symptoms of ADHD in adults may slightly vary. More than half of adults who are diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder- ADHD experienced it during their childhood. ADHD affects approximately 3% to 10% of children and an approximate 60% of them may continue to have these difficulties towards their adulthood. ADHD in adults may result in problems on interpersonal and professional levels and may also result in other psycho-emotional problems and disorders.

There is no certainty on what causes Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder- ADHD, yet studies suggest the role genetics as the primary cause. Other causes include a combination of factors such as environmental factors, excessive smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy, exposure to high levels of lead and other toxic chemicals as well as brain injuries.

Methylphenidate and amphetamines are the most common types of medication used for the treatment of ADHD. The stimulants essentially activate brain circuits that support attention and focused behaviour, thus reducing impulsivity, hyperactivity and help children to focus better.

The side effects often reported with treatment of ADHD using drugs include decreased hunger, problems related to sleep, uneasiness, and irritability. They can also cause more serious symptoms such as hallucinations, increased heart beat and stroke. Currently, these medications can only control the symptoms when taken. The intake of these medications does not result in better learning abilities, and recent studies have shown that for the long run, these medications do no improve academic performance. While the traditional models of treatment of ADHD include use of counselling, behavioural therapy and emotional support to help children and adults cope with ADHD, there are more modern approaches that offer long-term resolution.

Because ADHD is a neuro-cognitive disorder, only a neuro-cognitive approach can correct the difficulties related to the condition. Neuro cognitive therapy and training have shown excellent results in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and learning disabilities with marked improvement on all levels. Improving brain regulation combined with developing core cognitive skills such as visual processing, auditory processing, divided attention, multitasking, working memory and more, can contribute to considerable and permanent gains in cognitive performance and significant reduction in ADHD-related symptoms.

One of the pioneers in neuro-cognitive training is the ACEclinics in Toronto, Canada, headed by Bob Gottfried PhD. The clinic specializes in assessment and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders (LD), non-specific neuro-cognitive deficiencies and memory disorders.

For more information please contact:
Toronto, Canada
416 222 0004


Three Helpful Tips for ADHD Students and Adults Ready to Conquer Clutter and Get Organized

Anyone with a goal knows that to achieve results, you have to be willing to work hard. However, just as importantly, you also need the know-how to work smart. Reaching your goals requires a plan with concrete steps, as well as positive habits that can get you where you want to go. Individuals who struggle with ADD, ADHD, and similar conditions are well-acquainted with the frustrations of getting organized enough to see the success they so eagerly desire. Organizational expert and author Judith Kolberg works extensively in this field and has concluded that an enormous hurdle for many of us is a struggle with perfectionism. That is, because we are so preoccupied with being perfectly organized in the future, we miss out on easier, more immediate steps we can take to become a little bit more organized right now. Fortunately, there are in fact many small changes that people with ADD, ADHD, and a wide variety of difficult learning disorders can make that will improve their lives. In fact, they tips are often helpful for everyone to some extent. As you adopt more and more of these best practices, you will find yourself enjoying all the benefits of a more organized and effective life, including less clutter and greater peace of mind.

Your Timer is a Treasure

Everyone can struggle with time management, but this pitfall can become exponentially more extreme for people with ADD or ADHD. Spending hours or even days in agony as you try to make a decision others in your situation have made in minutes puts you at a serious disadvantage. The longer you draw out a decision making process, the more that task is likely to overlap with the large number of other things you have to do with your time. Before you know it, deadlines of all sorts are approaching in a jumbled mess and you are liable to find yourself stressed, unprepared, and unhappy. This goes for completing all sorts of activities, including homework or projects at work. Give yourself a time limit to make a choice or complete the work, and stick by it. Set reminders on your phone or computer, ask someone reliable to give you a call at a specific time to ask what you have decided, or simply write it down in your calendar. The important thing is that you stick to this deadline that you have chosen. A very real and tangible endpoint to your dilemma, that you have set for yourself in a manner which comfortably avoids any external pressures or consequences, can empower you enough to avoid distractions. Do not be discouraged if this is difficult at first! The more practice you have at holding yourself accountable, the better you will get at it.

Keep It Simple

When it is naturally a challenge to hold your attention in one place, the importance of developing physical expressions of where your focus should be cannot be understated. However, it is also critical not to set yourself up for failure. Everyone would like to be able to accomplish everything in one day, but that is just not always possible. This is why prioritizing is such a critical skillset. An excellent habit is to take an index card and write five tasks down on it at most – any other things you would like to be able to accomplish can be jotted down on the back. However, write those five main things down in big letters and use that as a reference throughout the day. Once you have finished all five things, you can throw out that card and create a new one. This card is an easy, portable way for you to be sure you are always aware of what you should be doing, ensuring you get more down. Additionally, the sensation of crossing things off the list and eventually throwing the card out altogether will decrease your sense of frustrations and make you feel good about your day. The better you feel, the more you are likely to continue doing.

Call For Backup

One of the best things you can do for a happy and healthy life is to surround yourself with supportive, caring people. A person working with ADD, ADHD, or a similar disorder which can put a strain on your capacity to focus, learn, or stay on task, will inevitably run into situations in which they need help. That is alright. Everyone, regardless of mental condition, encounters such realities. This is why a great network of friends and family is so important. However, you need to be willing to leverage their willing support and ask for help. When it comes time to accomplish a task that you know is usually far outside something you are willing to do independently, it is time to request a little supervision and support. As a friend or family member to sit with you while to tackle the task, whether it be a particularly time-intensive academic endeavor, a mundane chore like balancing a checkbook, or something else entirely. Have them sit by you and quietly do their own unobtrusive work. He or she can periodically check in with you, while otherwise providing an encouraging atmosphere by setting a standard of quiet productivity.

Living with ADD, ADHD, or any other learning disorder can be a challenge, but it is never an insurmountable one. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and do not get discouraged if it takes time to establish a routine that works for you. Every day is an opportunity for you to discover and more fully adopt a way of living that makes you feel productive, focused, and happy.

Do You Worry Your Mind Is Losing Its Edge? Four Cognitive Functions To Monitor and How to Keep Them Sharp

Bob GottfriedEveryone grows up. This, one of the universal truths of life on Earth, heavily influences both the way in which we choose to live and our understanding of life itself. With each passing day, we take in new experiences, expand our worldview, and learn new things. That learning process, in which we activate many different portions of our brains, involves billions of neurons changing and connecting at tens of thousands of synapses per neuron. As overwhelming as it may be to conceptualize this incredibly complex neurocircuitry, learning is many times effectively synonymous with life. You learn every day you are alive.

As such, it can be nothing short of horrifying to realize your mind does not seem to be acquiring, retaining, or interpreting data at quite the same rate of success as you are used to enjoying. If our ability to learn and remember information is so closely intertwined with our understanding of life (and definitely with a certain quality of life), the fear of losing the capacity to do so, particularly for aging individuals, can be debilitating. This is increasingly true as you notice more differences in pre-established patterns of behavior. However, the first step to facing this new phase of life is to equip yourself with some critical knowledge about what you are experiencing.

Due in large part to the advent of resources like the world wide web, there is, happily, no shortage of information available to individuals curious about how aging impacts the development of their brain. There has been an intensive scientific effort for quite some time now to improve our understanding how things like attention, memory, speech, and even decision making change over the years.

Many changes in cognitive function are inevitable. It is helpful to understand that these developments are often unavoidable and completely natural. A decent grasp of what what these functions are is the first step to responsibly and diligently monitoring them. The relationship between the human brain and cognition is certainly dynamic, but change in one ultimately alters the other. It is worth addressing four general groupings of cognitive functions, two often categorized as basic (attention and memory) and two higher level cognitive functions (speech and language, as well as decision making). Here, we will speak on attention.


One of the basic cognitive functions most affected by age, attention consists of certain components which remain relatively unaffected by growing old and others that deteriorate significantly. There are multiple sub-processes that support different aspects of attentional processing and some form of attention is involved in basically every other cognitive function with the exception of the truly habitual or automatic. An inability to keep sustained attention on a given task can be exceedingly problematic in everyday life. In our effort to even define attention, there is a need to acknowledge the various ways in which it has been divided and most thoroughly investigated by the scientific community in regards to aging in humans.

Selective Attention

Selective attention describes a skillset which empowers you to disregard irrelevant stimuli in favor of focusing on a given task. Stated simply, it is the extent to which you are able to select to what you choose to pay attention. Studies commonly examine how successful people are at finding a targeted image (often a recognizable symbol like a letter) when it is distractingly surrounded by other non-target images. The more alike the target and distractors are, the more challenging the task becomes. Alternatively, altering the proportion of target to non-target images also increases the difficulty. To be successful, you need to be able to pay attention to what is relevant and disregard everything else.

This is a situation in which every human finds his or herself immersed in nearly every minute of every day. We constantly need to focus our attention on a small handful of priorities (work, the car in front of us, the words being spoken to us) while simultaneously blocking out everything else (a conversation in the cubicle next to ours, the kids debating loudly in the backseat, or what is happening behind the person with whom we are speaking). Generally, older people respond more slowly to identifying target stimuli. However, you may be surprised to learn that the current body of science does not support the assumption that the elderly are more easily distracted. Therefore, it would seem that older adults may suffer from a general slowdown in terms of information processing, but not a decrease in their ability to selectively pay attention. Selective attention is a skill which we improve as we grow older (recall, for example, how easily distracted a kindergartner is as opposed to a high school senior). This might suggest that selective attention is, at least in part, a learned skillset and the extent to which you practice it colors both how well certain people can do it and the longevity of its prevalence.

Divided Attention

Divided attention refers to tasks that demand simultaneous, multiple sources of information. Put another way, it’s the extent to which you are comfortable focusing on more than one thing at once. Many studies ask participants to do several tasks at the same time, or perhaps keep track of two different target images in two different places. Scientists have identified the concept of a “cost” of dividing attention, and asses it by comparing how well people perform dual tasks with how successful task completion is when done separately. Older individuals do tend to struggle more when it comes to dividing their attention, and the disparity between age groups only grows with the intensity of the tasks. When given instructions to allocate different priorities to different tasks, older adults have also exhibited more trouble appropriately divvying up their attention. The elderly are also slower at changing mental sets to switch from one task to a completely different one.

Sustained Attention

A third category of attention under study is often called sustained attention. This refers to the ability to concentrate on a given task over a long period of time. Studies examine if there is any difference between the extent to which an older person can focus on a single activity over time as opposed to a young person. Generally, the science indicates that there is no discernable difference.

Stay Sharp

The good news is that older adults tend to retain their ability to excel at tasks which require sustained attention or singularly focused attention. There is, generally, a decline in the speed of information processing, but older folks are not vastly more likely to be distracted than a younger counterpart. However, as you age, studies do suggest that there will likely be a significant drop in your ability to divide your attention or switch between multiple inputs. Essentially, young people tend to make better multitaskers.

Fortunately, these differences between the young and the old in both their ability to divide attention and switch attention can be reduced by extended training. It is important to prioritize these endeavors, given how severely a person’s ability to pay attention in all situations impacts daily life. Consider, for instance, driving. Being behind the wheel of a car demands constantly switching attention between different external inputs, which becomes harder as the years advance. However, even in old age, the parts of the brain which learn to complete tasks automatically with practice can still be highly functional. This can alleviates some of the burden on attention in certain situations. Otherwise, you can still reduce the attentional demands of certain task by simply becoming more familiar with them.

Research has also indicated that cardiovascular exercise can be quite helpful. Aerobic activity change the middle-frontal and superior regions of the brain, which control things like focus, spatial attention, and decision-making. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concluded that cardio for just 40 minutes per week resulted in a larger volume of neurons in the part of the brain that controls learning and memory. Although the exact mechanic in this process are still not fully understood, the current scientific consensus definitely suggests that going for a run is not just a great for your body, but also really good for your mind.