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memory strategies

3.7 Helping people with dementia to stay on task

Strategies to help maintain focus and stay on task

Many people with dementia are easily distracted and find it hard to focus on a task. People without dementia can usually have something else going on (for example the radio, other people talking) and still focus on a task, but if we are tired focusing becomes more difficult. This is a little like the experience of people with dementia. Their brains have to work much harder to block out unnecessary stimulus like noise.

To support someone to focus on a task:

  • Do one thing at a time – ditch the multi-tasking.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Plan you day. Plan activities that demand a lot of attention when you are well rested. Many people find that they think best in the morning. Do routine or more physical jobs in the afternoon. If you have evening activities, plan a rest in the afternoon.
  • Make sure the environment is calm and free of distractions such as excess noise.
  • Did you know that the older eye receives much less light than a younger eye? A 75-year-old requires approximately twice the amount of light as a 45-year-old to have the same quality of vision. Ensure that there is good general lighting and good non-glare task lighting.
  • A good way to help remember something is to ask the person to repeat a very simple version of what they need to do. As they were leaving to go to the shops Val asked David to go back into the house and get the prescription they left on the kitchen bench. David frequently found he would go back inside and think “what did I come in here for?” He knew it frustrated Val. David found that repeating the task in his mind “get the prescription from the kitchen” kept him from being distracted.
  • For more suggestions on managing when symptoms become hurdles to daily life, you might find the By Us For Us guides useful. These are written by people with dementia and carers and can be downloaded free online.
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Try strategies to help with life

Re-read this page and write down some strategies that you think might be helpful to you. Then try them out.