How does one improve their tolerance to distractions?

When do we ever devote all of our concentration and attention to ONE thing anymore? When does a distraction, or dividing your attention become risky…or even outright dangerous? We have the all-too-often cited examples of distracted driving and even some people that have walked into objects or traffic while texting. 

As we age, our margin for error reduces. Activities such as driving, standing on one foot to put a sock on, or walking at high speed requires fast and accurate reactions. Because of changes in vision, nerve conduction, and even mental processing speeds – aging can lead to more problems when we attempt to participate in formerly automatic activities, ALONG WITH a distraction. 

Our brains store procedural memories – activities that we can do “without thinking”. Depending on our experiences, these can include sporting activities (how I shoot a free throw, how I throw a ball, how I do a somersault); or musical activities (how I play “Happy Birthday” on a harmonica or piano, how I play a chord on my guitar); even everyday activities (walking or brushing teeth). The more well-established a procedural memory is, the more protected from the effects of a distraction it can be. 

How does one improve their tolerance to distractions, such that a bird overhead, a car’s horn honking, the urgency to get to the restroom, a granddaughter’s first steps, or a conversation with your spouse…does not lead to a missed-step, or even a fall? Science is developing in this area. Dual task training is the answer. The application of “how” is the question. Placing someone in or exposing them to dual task environments to “get better”…introduces risk for falls in the effort to improve. There is a better solution, one with higher intensity and lower to no risk for physical consequences. The answer is THRIVE!