Signs You’re Suffering From ‘Dementia of the Preoccupied’

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Photo: Corbis

In an interview this week on “Fresh Air,” neuroscientist and author Frances Jensen introduces a much-needed phrase to the modern neurological lexicon: “dementia of the preoccupied.” This, as you might’ve guessed, is not a real medical disorder; rather, it’s a phrase Jensen came up with to describe the way she feels throughout the day, as she’s constantly shifting her attention and switching between tasks. “So much is coming at me,” said Jensen, who was on the show to promote her new book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. “Things fall through the cracks. So I just have now decided to call it the ‘dementia of the preoccupied,’ because I refuse to think that I’m actually becoming demented. I just know it’s all environmental — it’s got nothing to do with my age or what’s happening inside my brain.”

Host Terry Gross asked Jensen to describe the symptoms of dementia of the preoccupied. Jensen replied:

Well, I think we’re not dwelling on tasks long enough to consolidate our memories, frankly … And we’re being forced to move fast — you know, move, move, move … I feel like a little robot sometimes, you know — I start on this and somebody rushes into the office [saying], "Sign that." I sign that and go back to what I was writing, and I’m like, I don’t even know what the next sentence was that I was going to type here. You know, and on and on and on.

There is no cure — as, again, it’s an imaginary illness — but the best way to curb the crazed, distracted feelings, Jensen says, is to fight back with the opposite: End your days by reflecting deeply on the most important thing to happen to you during the day, she suggests. It’s a nice idea, but one that, I fear, I’m much too preoccupied to ever actually get around to doing.