Concentration and attention problems are very common secondary effects of brain injury.
Most of the time, however, TBI survivors do not initially have good insight into their deficits, therefore they may not notice anything wrong with their attention.
Loved ones also often mistake concentration problems as signs that the person is uninterested or lazy, when it is usually more related to difficulty attending to things for longer periods of time. To avoid these misunderstandings, it’s crucial to educate yourself about attention problems after brain injury.
This article will cover why attention problems occur after brain injury, the signs of concentration loss, and strategies that can help you overcome it.
Causes of Attention Problems After Brain Injury
One area of the brain that plays a major role in attention is the lateral intraparietal cortex. This area lets a person visually focus on important objects and filter out other stimuli. It’s how you can pay attention to the road when driving, for example.
When this region is damaged in an injury, it becomes difficult to filter out other competing objects and sounds. As a result, the person’s attention span is severely reduced.
Of course, this isn’t the only cause behind attention problems after brain injury. Rather, there are a whole host of factors that all make it more difficult for a TBI patient to concentrate.
Some other causes of attention difficulties include:
- Cognitive fatigue
- Physical fatigue
- Sleep disorders
- Emotional problems, such as mood swings or depression
- Lack of vitamin B and other vital brain nutrients
Treating these underlying issues can often drastically improve your concentration skills.
Signs of Attention Problems
TBI patients with concentration issues typically have difficulty with the following activities:
- Difficulty listening to others talk
- Trouble reading an article or book chapter all the way through
- Difficulties following the plot of a movie
- Struggling to finish a task
- Inability to multitask (such as listening to music and washing the dishes)
Fortunately, if you do have serious attention problems, it is possible to find techniques to manage them and even improve your concentration. In the following section, we’ll discuss various interventions that can help individuals improve their attention skills following a brain injury.
Treating the Physical Causes of Attention Problems
The first step to overcoming attention problems is to determine what’s causing them and if anything is making them worse.
As we mentioned above, sometimes it’s not just cognitive issues that lead to attention problems. Lack of sleep, a poor diet, pain, stress, and even medication may contribute to attention problems. So before you seek any other treatments, try to get the physical side of the equation under control.
The mind and body are closely connected. If you keep your body healthy, you will notice your mental strength improving as well, including the ability to concentrate.
The following are a few tips that can help you do this:
- Exercise regularly. Do so for at least 30 minutes every day. Exercise brings more blood to the brain, which gives the brain vital nutrients and improves focus.
- Eat a healthy brain injury diet. Try to also incorporate important vitamins for brain injury, which will also make you focus better.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep repairs brain cells and helps the brain recharge so it can focus throughout the day. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, consult with a sleep specialist.
- Stay hydrated. If your brain doesn’t get enough water, it won’t function efficiently, which will cause attention problems. Try to drink at least 64 oz per day.
If you follow this advice regularly and still have trouble paying attention, then you can move on to other treatments.
Coping with Attention Problems After Brain Injury
There are lots of strategies that help you relearn how to focus after brain injury. Here are three ways to manage your attention problems and improve your concentration.
1. Fix your environment
It helps if you make your work environment or the place where you spend the most time as distraction-free as possible.
Keep your desk organized, turn off the TV or radio, and use noise-canceling headphones or earplugs when you need to read or focus.
These tricks help avoid overwhelming the brain with too much stimulation, which leaves more energy to pay attention.
2. Start small
If your attention problems have made it hard for you to focus for more than a few minutes, here’s a helpful tactic: break whatever task you are working on into smaller pieces.
For example, if you can’t work for 5 hours straight, plan to take a short break every half hour.
When you give yourself permission to go slow and take things one step at a time, you end up making more progress than if you try to do everything at once. The point is to start at a level you feel comfortable and work from there.
3. Build up slowly
Once you break an activity down to a manageable level, start gradually increasing the load. You should feel challenged, but not overwhelmed.
So, if you read only five pages of a book today, try reading six tomorrow. Then when you feel ready, bump it up to seven.
By gradually increasing the load on your attention, you help your brain rewire itself and improve its concentration skills.
Think of it like training for a marathon. You have to increase your endurance slowly and consistently before you can run the whole thing.
More Ways to Improve Attention After Brain Injury
If your attention problems are severe, the above advice might help a little, but it probably won’t be enough.
In that case, talk to your doctor, who might recommend medications to improve your attention.
Do not take any medications without permission from your physician.
A psychologist can also teach you ways to improve concentration skills. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven especially effective at treating attention problems.
With help from your doctor, your therapists, your psychologist, and the advice in this article, you can create a solid plan for dealing with attention problems after brain injury.