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Thinking and memory changes

Attention

Attention is being able to focus on what’s important and not getting distracted by what isn’t important.

Changes in attention can make it hard to:

  • follow a conversation, especially when more than one person is talking
  • work
  • cook a meal or drive safely
  • finish a task

We all have problems paying attention and concentrating, especially when we’re tired or don’t feel well. But when you have a brain injury, it can be hard to concentrate on simple tasks, like washing your hands or getting dressed.

Distractions

After a brain injury, you may be able to pay attention, but only for short amounts of time. Or, you may focus on 1 detail or the wrong detail which distracts you from other important information.

These distractions could be internal, like needing to go to the bathroom. Or the distraction could be external, like focusing on someone’s tone of voice or earlobe, rather than what they’re saying.

Even when you’re trying to pay attention to what someone’s saying, how they look, noise from the street, what you’re feeling, and other things going on around you can distract you from what they say.

Tips for family and caregivers

  • Lessen distractions, such as having only one person in the room at a time or turning off the TV or radio.
  • Break tasks into small steps.
  • Give them the time they need to do a task. Encourage them not to rush through a task. Don’t expect it to be done perfectly.
  • Be sure they know you’re talking to them before you start a conversation or ask them to do something.
  • Use the tone of your voice and body language to help keep their attention. Show excitement in your voice and use hand signals to bring their attention back to the task. If they seem distracted, bring their focus back to the task using a gentle, calming voice.
  • Give new information in small bits and repeat it often. Have them repeat back the information to help them remember.
  • Encourage hobbies or activities that they enjoy and can do. Card games, puzzles, and reading can help with concentration.
  • Let them know when you see them pay attention longer (either listening or doing a task).
  • Watch they don’t get too tired. Trouble focusing can make you get tired quickly. Encourage them to take short breaks to give their brain a rest.​

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