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Loss of Focus & Attention Span

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Among the many changes for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is losing the ability to focus.

“It can happen at any point, but it can be part of the even the early stages and warning signs, when a person just begins to decline,” said Ruth Drew, Director of Client and Information Services for the Alzheimer’s Association ( “Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain, and it tends to start in hippocampus where new memory and new learning are stored so anything that disrupts that could certainly make it more difficult for a person to hold on to a train of thought.”

In addition, many of the seemingly simple tasks that people do can actually be pretty complex when broken down into steps. One example of this is driving.

“It is different for each person,” Drew said. “Certainly by the middle stages [of the disease], focus is definitely going to be impacted.”

For caregivers to people living with dementia, the solution to helping someone maintain some focus is to create a calm environment and stick with a routine.

“I think it’s possible to help support the person, but it is not possible to eradicate every symptom of the disease,” Drew cautioned. “Create an environment that is more calming and soothing, that doesn’t have lots of noise to distract a person, and it might make it easier for them to focus on something enjoyable.”

Caregivers should choose activities that the individual enjoyed before their illness, rather than impose something that they feel should be enjoyable for someone.

“The whole goal of these sorts of these activities is the enjoyment and the doing, not having a perfect outcome,” Drew said. “Whether it’s folding laundry or making cookies, the enjoyment is the time together, not that we executed it perfectly.”

While the deterioration of the ability to focus is important, Drew says it does play a role in memory problems and the ability to complete a task.

“When people have big family gatherings, they want everything to be special, but sometimes that break in the routine and all of the extra hubbub, can feel really disquieting to the person with dementia,” Drew said. “Doing the same old thing every day – that allows a person to function at their best.”

We Specialize in Caregiving Services Related to Dementia

As dementia progresses, your loved one’s attention span and concentration will decrease — resulting in being distracted easily and difficulties focusing. By engaging your loved one in certain cognitive exercises, you can increase attention span and the ability to concentrate, one bit at a time.

If your loved one is suffering from dementia, you may notice that focusing on a certain task is challenging — a loud noise may completely dismantle the completion of a household chore, such as making the bed or focusing on completing a puzzle may simply not be in the cards. The following exercises may help your loved one increase the cognitive function required to maintain some level of attention span and concentration.

Exercise #1

Our experienced dementia care experts from Homewatch CareGivers® suggest that you create a set of opposite cards. For example, one would have an image of fire, the other with ice. One the image of a dog, the other, a cat — and so on. Shuffle the cards and lay the images out on a table, ensuring the opposite sets are visible. Ask your loved one to physically match the sets based on opposites. Next, re-shuffle the cards, and hold one up at a time (for example, the fire card). Make a statement like, “If this is hot, the opposite would be what?” Ask your loved one to choose the correct opposite card from the deck of remaining cards.

Exercise #2

Create a set of color and shape cards, and begin a homemade game of Concentration. Lay out the set of cards, face up, in front of your loved one, and have him or her study the location of the cards for about one minute. Turn the cards face down, and then ask your loved one to find the matches based on their memory of the card locations.

As you’re working with your loved one on these exercises, carefully monitor the amount of time s/he spends on each activity before becoming distracted and requiring redirection. The goal is to have your loved one maintain, if not improve, their time over the course of your sessions. If you must redirect your loved one in order to help them remain on task, simply restate the original directions, or offer to demonstrate the activity for clarification. Remember to use clear and positive communication skills, and work within your loved one’s abilities and tolerance levels — while watching for signs of overwhelm or exhaustion.

For questions about these exercises or any of our dementia care tips, feel free to contact us.

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