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Attention Skills following Brain Injury


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We are all equipped with a very complex and dynamic system of attention. These skills allow us to go through life attending to the things that are important and blocking out the stimuli that is not important. Our attention skills allow us to do more than one thing at a time, or switch between 2 different activities. Attention skills following brain injury are often compromised. Following a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the ability to concentrate for more than short lengths of time may be compromised, and trying to maintain attention will quickly become tiring. Attention skills are closely associated with other skills that can also be affected by a TBI such as memory and planning skills. Attention skills are important because we need them to carry out most daily tasks and to communicate effectively. Individuals with a brain injury and reduced attention skills may find it harder to concentrate on a task, attend to other peoples conversation, learn new information, and participate in certain everyday tasks such as driving.


Different Types of Attention Skills

There are different types of attention skills:

  • Sustained attention – this skill is needed to maintain attention for a specific period of time to complete a task e.g. writing an essay, reading a book, .
  • Selective attention – this skill enables you to attend to something without being easily distracted by background noise, or movement e.g. performing a task while music is playing.
  • Alternating attention – this skill allows you to switch between 2 activities and not just focus on one and forget the other e.g. cooking a meal and laying the table.
  • Divided attention – this skill allows you to divide your attention between 2 tasks e.g. driving and talking at the same time


Difficulties with attention have effects on communication and day to day tasks such as driving and cooking. Individuals with attention difficulties can put themselves in danger if they undertake tasks such as driving, operating machinery, or crossing the road, especially if they are also suffering from fatigue. Attention will also affect communication skills because an individual with brain injury will have difficulty attending to conversations and processing information.


Treatment and rehabilitation for attention skills difficulties may focus on implementing strategies that you can use to facilitate attention and concentration, such as monitoring your fatigue, trying not to multi-task, and eliminating distractions when you are talking to someone or performing a task. A Speech and Language Therapist can help implement these strategies and facilitate recovery.


For more information about communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets about TBI and information and strategies for improving communication, memory and attention skills go to the Downloads Section.


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