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 several areas of the brain. TBI can and often does affect all forms of attention. Attention is important since the ability to pay attention is the first step to learning and remembering.

It is not uncommon for a person with a TBI to only be able to pay attention for a few minutes at a time. This can occur with any level of severity of a TBI – mild, moderate, or severe.

What might you see?

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

How can you help?

  • Encourage the service member or veteran to focus on one task at a time.
  • Be sure you have the service member or veteran’s attention before beginning a discussion or task.
  • Remove unnecessary items from the home environment that can be distracting for the family member (for example, radio, television, etc.).
  • Perform tasks in a quiet environment.
  • Reduce distractions and noises.
  • Use timers (watches, smartphones, or other devices) and checklists in the calendar or 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 or frustration 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. Allow time for the service member or veteran to process the information.