Quick Facts

  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task or thought
  • These difficulties may lead to problems in work, school, and everyday life
  • People may assume a lack of intelligence or motivation (e.g. children with a brain injury may be seen as lazy or disruptive students)

What does it
look like?

  • Drifting off and thinking about other things, only partial understanding of new tasks
  • Difficulty sustaining attention for long periods of time and shifting from one topic to another
  • Having trouble keeping track of what is being said or done
  • Being more easily distracted; difficulty “tuning out” distractions
  • Becoming bored, losing interest quickly and not completing tasks
  • May not be aware of things in their environment

Possible Causes and Complications

Possible causes:

  • Damage to parts of the brain (e.g. cortex, cerebellum) may cause attention difficulties
  • The following can make attention and concentration more challenging:
    • Hunger
    • Being tired
    • Illness and pain (especially headaches)
    • Dietary inadequacy, especially B group vitamins and iron
    • Alcohol and other drugs, medication side effects
    • Depression and anxiety

Possible complications:

  • Individuals may have difficulty learning new things or completing tasks
  • Others may believe they are lazy or unintelligent

What can we do?

  • Minimize distractions for the individual (e.g. sit them facing away from the door, window or crowd; turn off the TV or radio; close the door)
  • Have them focus on one thing at a time
  • Do important tasks first, and break down tasks into smaller steps
  • Assist in setting a goal and use incentives (e.g. cup a tea after 20 min. of focused work)
  • Use cuing to attract their attention before speaking
  • Redirect their focus with both verbal or nonverbal cues
  • Establish consistent, predictable, and regular routines
  • Signal when a shift of attention will happen
  • Encourage the individual to:
    • Ask others not to interrupt; do tasks in a quiet place
    • Use self-talk to stay on task (e.g. “stay focused”)
    • Take frequent breaks
    • Follow a daily routine, eat a healthy diet and sleep routine
    • Relaxation strategies like deep breathing and meditation

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical doctor. Consult a health care provider regarding specific medical concerns or treatment.