Gary Small, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center on Aging, says that older workers need to focus on what they can bring to the workplace that makes them special not obsess about senior moments or their inability master all the new technology.
"The good news for older job seekers, for example, is that their brains know more. They have more life experiences and their frontal lobe functioning makes it easier for them to read people better, to have better face-to-face interactions," he says. "These are all things that can be emphasized to an employer."
Still, for those who before the economic downturn expected to be retiring and are now looking at working another decade or more the idea of remaining competitive in the workplace with younger workers can be daunting. Small says the key is taking steps to remain mentally sharp as you age.
For example, he suggests:
Get physical • A brisk walk every day even for 10 or 15 minutes can help stimulate blood flow to your brain, and walking with a friend or spouse is even better because it helps relieve stress. Stress can cause more "middle-age pauses" when we can't remember things like where we left our car keys, so practice meditation or tai chi so that you stay calm at work, he says.
Eat well • Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fish at least twice a week. Cut down on alcohol and nicotine.
Be mentally stimulated • Studies indicate that mental stimulation such as crossword puzzles or card games can lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Small says any move to "flex your brain muscle" is a good idea, so stay active with mental and social activities outside of work.
Create mental snapshots • If you have trouble remembering names, Small recommends using mental imagery. For example, you might envision a dollar bill when you meet "Bill," which will help you recall his name later.
Give up multitasking • Multitasking doesn't work for anyone regardless of age and can lead to mistakes." Small says it makes more sense for older workers to set aside blocks of time to accomplish certain tasks, such as answering e-mail. The focus on one task at a time will lead to greater efficiency and fewer errors, he says.
Take mini-vacations • Small suggests tracking the number of hours worked daily compared with the number of hours devoted to leisure activities. While it is important to take vacations lasting several days to recharge your batteries, it is just as important to take needed breaks during the day. He says older workers should strive to balance their work and leisure time so they keep their mental abilities fresh.
Learn new things • Older workers should embrace learning new skills and seek training on new technology. This can be especially important for older job seekers to show they are capable of handling the evolving technological demands of the work force, he says.
Finally, Small says that if you are concerned that your senior moments aren't amusing and may be the sign of something more serious such as Alzheimer's disease see a doctor.
"Worrying about your memory can just make it worse, and there's nothing wrong with seeing a doctor," he says. "We know that starting treatment early (for Alzheimer's) can lead to better outcomes."
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett Content-One, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.