Attention and Concentration
Attention and concentration are terms used to describe the complex mental processes that allow us to notice things and to take in information from the world around us. Difficulties with attention are common following a brain injury. In this section we focus on attention problems in everyday life and suggest tips and advice to help with any difficulties.
How attention works
Attention and concentration are terms used to describe the complex mental processes that allow us to notice things and to take in information from the world around us. We use the term ‘attention’ to refer to both attention and concentration because the two terms are interchangeable.
Difficulties with attention are common following a brain injury. Everyone’s brain injury affects them in a slightly different way. Some suggestions in this section may work for you, while others may not. In addition to your brain injury, other things can affect your attention - these include tiredness, hunger, stress, your mood, pain, other illnesses and medications.
Attention involves many complex processes which are not all understood fully yet. However, experts agree that there are a number of different types of attention. We have included some examples below.
Sustained attention is our ability to keep paying attention to something over a period of time — for example: watching a movie.
Selective attention is our ability to focus on one thing and to ignore everything else — for example: listening to a friend talking in the middle of a busy café.
Alternating attention is the ability to switch our attention between two things - for example: while you are writing an email, you receive a phone call. After you finish the call, you go back to writing your email.
Divided attention is our ability to multi-task or, in other words, to do two things at once. Examples of divided attention are: watching television while talking to someone or driving while listening to the news.
Attention uses many different areas of the brain in order to work properly. So an injury to any one of these areas can cause difficulties. This is the reason why attention is so often affected after a brain injury.
Attention difficulties can affect your memory. If you have trouble noticing something and taking in information about it, you won’t be able to recall it later. Due to the fact that memory and attention are closely related, it is often hard to tell which one is causing problems. A psychologist, or Occupational Therapist, can help you understand more about your particular difficulties. They can assess a range of your thinking skills and suggest specific approaches that may help. See also Memory this Brain Injury Series.
Any attention difficulties you have will be worse if you are tired or stressed. These common-sense tips may help:
Tools to Help Your Attention
If you find it stressful trying to do a few things at once:
To make it easier to concentrate on a task that has a number of steps in it:
To reduce visual distractions while you are working or doing a hobby:
If you need to do an important task:
To make it easier to pick out the important points from a document:
If you find it hard to keep track of what is being said at meetings:
Headway offers free community-based brain injury assessment, counselling and rehabilitation in Cork, Dublin, Kerry and Limerick. t: 1890 200 278 or go to our services section
To access a public psychologist, your GP or Public Health Nurse can refer you. HSE t: 1850 24 1850 or visit www.hse.ie
To find a registered private psychologist, contact the Psychological Society of Ireland. t: 01 472 0105 or visit www.psihq.ie
To access a public Occupational Therapist, contact your local HSE Health Office or Health Centre. HSE t: 1850 24 1850 or visit www.hse.ie
To find a private Occupational Therapist, contact the Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland. t: 01 874 8136 or visit www.aoti.ie
Further Reading Suggestions