Skills for Managing Memory and Concentration Problems

Memory and Concentration

Skills for Managing Memory and Concentration Problems

Have you noticed changes in your cognitive abilities since you got injured? These can include changes in your memory, attention, concentration, or ability to make decisions.

You might find that you have difficulty finishing projects that you have started or are becoming more distracted than usual. Time could feel like it is moving very slowly. You might be unusually confused or things may seem foggy. You might even have trouble communicating to your loved ones.

It is common for people who have recently experienced a stressful event to have these experiences! Researchers have found that these difficulties usually improve or disappear within weeks or months after an injury.

How can I improve these abilities?
There are many ways that you can help improve your ability to concentrate and remember things. Giving yourself permission to work more slowly is key. You can also set up your home or living environment in helpful ways.

  • Develop realistic expectations. It is common for people to experience memory and concentration problems after an injury or other stressful events. And, it is common for those problems to resolve within a few weeks to a few months. Improvements sometimes don’t happen quite as quickly as we would like.
  • Remove distractions. If you are surrounded by several things that are demanding your attention, you may soon feel overwhelmed. By removing distractions (for example, excess noise), you may find that you are better able to focus.
  • Organize. You can reduce distractions and additional stressors by becoming organized. Having a designated location for your important items (keys, phone, wallet) can make you less likely to forget important items. Also, if you find that you are less able to remember important appointments, a calendar (either on your phone or on paper) may help you remember.
  • Take things slow. Do one thing at a time and allow yourself more time to get things done. For example, if it took you 30 minutes to make dinner before your injury, try to give yourself 60 minutes now.
  • Double check your work, or have someone check it for you. When you are experiencing memory and concentration problems it is likely that you will make a mistake from time to time. Carefully checking your work, or having a supportive person check your work for you, can help you to improve your work quality. This can also help you become more aware of areas of work that may need extra attention.
  • Stick to familiar tasks for a few weeks. The tasks that are most likely to cause problems for you are new, novel tasks that are unfamiliar to you. On the other hand, tasks that you have done many times before are likely to cause fewer problems and to feel easier to complete. So set yourself up to experience some successes! Focus on doing familiar tasks for a while before taking on new challenges.
  • Make lists. Writing things down (on paper or documenting in your phone) can be a helpful tool for remembering what needs to be done. Keep a running list and prioritize what you should do first. Be sure to remember where you keep your lists!
  • Take breaks. You may find that seemingly simple things may now make you very tired. Listen to your body. Stop and rest when you need to.  
  • Speak up. Reach out to friends and family for help when needed. Ask people to slow down when talking with you or repeat things when necessary.   
  • Prioritize good sleep. After a stressful event, many people have difficulty getting restful sleep. Lack of sleep can negatively impact thinking and concentration - often much more than people realize. Making restful, adequate sleep a high priority will help with memory and concentration challenges that you might be experiencing.
  • Make sure that your pain is well-managed. If you are experiencing pain, your ability to concentrate and to remember things is likely to be negatively impacted. Pain can impact sleep, distract us, lead to negative thinking patterns about our abilities, and impact our communication. All of these things can cause problems with memory and concentration. Work with your provider to manage your pain - it will help with memory and concentration problems, and will improve other areas as well. Click here to learn more about managing pain.

If you find that your cognitive skills are not improving, reach out to your physician for help, or reach out to our team.