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Loss of Focus in Alzheimers and Dementia Patients

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 (www.alz.org). “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.”