The Caregiver's Journey

Attention Problems

The ability to focus, to pay attention for a long time, and to do more than one thing at a time is controlled by the brain. TBI can and often does affect all forms of attention. Attention is important because paying attention is the first step to learning and remembering.

It is not uncommon for a person with a severe TBI to only be able to attend for a few minutes at a time, in the beginning.

What you might see:

  • Short attention span, sometimes only minutes in duration 
  • Easily distracted 
  • Difficulty in attending to one or more things at a time 
  • Inability to shift attention from one task or person to the next 
  • Difficulty completing tasks

How you can help:

  • Focus on one task at a time.
  • Be sure you have your service member/veteran’s attention before beginning a discussion or task.
  • Reduce clutter at home and in the work environment. 
  • Perform tasks in a quiet environment.
  • Remove distractions and noises that you don’t need. As best as possible, use timers (watches, PDAs, or other devices) and checklists in the calendar/memory notebook to help with completion of tasks.
  • Refocus attention to the task at hand.
  • Expect a short attention span. Schedule rest breaks and/or stop an activity when you notice drifting attention.
  • When signs of distraction arise, insert a rest break. (“Let’s do this for another five minutes and then take a 15 minute break.”)
  • Present verbal or visual information in limited amounts.