Attention to detail gets more important as we age

My husband is a finance guy, a CPA with a master’s in taxation. He is, by all accounts, a meticulous, detail-oriented individual.

It’s nice to have one of those in a family. At least one of us should be reading the dishwasher manual when it malfunctions, checking a contract’s fine print before signing and making sure the stove is turned off before leaving the house.

Most recently, my husband won kudos from my mother when he found an error in the Required Minimum Distribution from her 401(k) while calculating her taxes. My mother’s investment advisor, who should have caught the error, was embarrassed and apologized.

Sometimes paying attention to detail can reap financial rewards. One woman actually won $10,000 for reading an insurance policy’s fine print.

A travel insurance company launched a contest wherein they would award $10,000 to the first consumer who read through the fine print of its contract and contacted them at a special email address buried inside.

Donelan Andrews, a 59-yearold teacher, claimed the prize just 23 hours after the contest opened.

Andrews works as a home economics and consumer science teacher and uses her class to teach her students, among other things, the importance of reading a contract. No better reward for walking her talk than winning $10,000.

Attention to detail becomes even more valuable as we age.

Many studies show that aging negatively affects our ability to pay attention, to block out distractions and to split our attention among several activities at once (multitasking).

But there are some things we can do as we get older to hone the attention skill.

For example: Look for patterns.

When detail-oriented people look at the big picture and its finer points, they can recognize patterns, which are important and frequently overlooked.

For example, if your sleep patterns have changed recently, that might be worth investigating.

The new sleep pattern (dozing in the daytime and awake at night) could be part of a developing medical condition.

Patterns are predictors that tell us things we might not be aware of at first glance.

One way to distinguish patterns is to keep a diary of occurrences.

What if you have been having trouble sleeping over the last month? Jot down the days and any other important aspects that you think might be affecting your sleep.

It most likely will be worth investigating.

Next, try to keep things organized. Detailoriented people notice small things that don’t quite fit into the big picture.

Having things in order helps us to notice when things are out of place. That’s why those weekly medication organizers are so useful. They help us to easily see when a medication was skipped.

Do one thing at a time.

While it used to be easy to watch television while paying the bills, as we get older our focus should be on a single activity to prevent mistakes.

Lastly, one way I try to augment my less-than-perfect detail-oriented personality is to surround myself with individuals (my husband, our attorney, our landscaper) that have an eye for detail in their area of expertise. Whether it is paid assistance, or friends and family offering to help, find people who exhibit an attention to detail.

They are important partners to help us stay on top of things as we get older.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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