Problems with focus and concentration after a stroke
When you concentrate on something, your brain has to screen out a lot of information coming in from the world around you.
- A stroke can affect your brain’s ability to do this, also known as ‘selective attention’.
- It can affect your ability to stay focused on something for a period of time, also known as ‘sustained attention’.
Concentration problems are especially common in the early stages after a stroke. They can affect you in several ways, as we rely on concentration for all of our other thinking processes. If you find it hard to focus on something, then you may find it hard to respond, or to remember it later.
Signs of concentration problems
If you’re having problems with your concentration you may not be able to:
- Filter out what’s going on around you, so it may be difficult to chat with someone if you’re in a noisy room or find what you’re looking for in the supermarket
- Stay focused on a single task, like reading a book or watching a television programme
- Move from one task to another very easily, so if you’re interrupted, you may find it difficult to return to whatever you were doing before
- Do more than one thing at once, so you may find it difficult to chat with someone and make a cup of tea at the same time
- Process information, so you may find it hard to follow people who talk very quickly or it may take you longer to do things than it used to.
What can I do about my concentration?
Just do one thing at a time
If you’re making something to eat, don’t try to use the phone at the same time. Even talking to someone in the same room can be tricky.
Focus on completely finishing a task before moving on to another.
If someone’s giving you information, ask them to keep it simple. If it helps, get them to write it down.
If you need to concentrate on something, ask yourself if there’s anything that may distract you. Turn off the TV and radio or move to a quiet room and ask other people in the house not to disturb you for a little while.
Try to remove clutter, so you won’t have any visual distractions either. If you just keep the kettle, cups, teabags and sugar on the kitchen counter, this may help when you come to make a cup of tea
Make things easier for yourself
It may help to write a ‘to-do’ list the night before and decide which tasks are the most important. That way, if you find yourself having a bad day, you’ll know what to focus on and what can be left until another time.
When you’re talking to people, try to repeat things that they tell you in your own words. This may help you to follow the conversation and feel confident that you’ve understood.
Know your limits
Remember that you’re not going to be able to concentrate for long periods. So keep your activities to half an hour, or however long you can manage. If an activity is going to take longer than this, take a break and come back to it later. You’ll probably be able to focus on it a lot better if you do.
If you know you’re going to be doing something that requires concentration (if you’re going to an appointment or expecting a visitor, for example) then plan to have a rest immediately before.
If you find it hard to follow a whole TV programme, think about what you’re watching. News, sports, or cookery programmes will probably be easier to keep up with than dramas or documentaries, which rely on you watching the whole thing.
Try using your phone. Smartphones have alarms, calendars, address books and cameras that can help you keep notes and set up alerts and reminders.
“I watched East Enders on TV to understand what the story was about. I chose that because there were no commercials or music halfway through, both of which my brain couldn’t cope with.” Frances
Find out more about cognitive problems after stroke.