Attention Disorders

Attention disorders are varied and require different treatment methodologies. Here we provide a breakdown of common causes and terminology.

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Attention Disorders

Attention disorders

This is Part Three of our three-part series on Attention. Click here to read Part One: What Role Does Attention Play in Daily Life? or Part Two: Improving and Increasing Your Attention Skills

Some aspects of attention may be altered by factors such as fatigue, stress, alcohol, and drugs. Below is a list of the main attention disorders and their causes.

Aging
Aging frequently impairs the speed of our information processing capacities and reduces our capacity for selective attention. Researchers have shown that the ability to resist interferences is particularly compromised in seniors, who are much less efficient when carrying out two tasks simultaneously. Thus, while a 20-year old will have no trouble studying while music is being played in the background, a 60-year old will likely find this same task to be quite difficult.

Hyperactivity
Some people are hyperactive or suffer from attention deficit disorders. This is frequently manifested by a deficit in attentional flexibility: the person will find it extremely difficult to focus and will be easily distracted by external (smells, noises, visual events) or internal (his/her own thoughts) events. Because of the dysfunction of inhibitory mechanisms, the person will attend to irrelevant information and experiences, making it difficult to focus on the activity at hand, as they are constantly called upon by other stimuli.
It is necessary to teach these individuals (most often children) to develop their attention and focus at an early age, in an autonomous and sustainable manner. Recent studies by Canadian researchers have shown how important regular cognitive training sessions are to treat these attention disorders.

Difficulties in engaging, releasing and re-engaging attention

Difficulties can appear at each of these 3 levels: engaging, releasing and re-engaging attention.

  • People suffering from engagement disorders cannot commit themselves to an activity, even if it’s something they enjoy. Though they often appear to be completely lacking in interest, this is not actually the case.
  • Disorders involving attentional release lead to excessive focus on a given activity or item (this may look like an obsession to an observer). For instance, people suffering from tinnitus cannot inhibit the continuous hum they hear.
  • People with re-engagement disorders find it difficult to re-engage their attention once it has been interrupted by an interfering event, even if the event is irrelevant to what they are doing.

Cranial trauma
Attention disorders are frequently encountered after a severe cranial trauma and generally induce a reduction in the speed of information processing. Studies[1] specifically show that shared attention suffers from a deficit, whereas focused attention capacities are generally spared (good resistance to interference). One method for restoring shared attention consists of having the patient carry out two tasks at the same time. The rehabilitation begins with very simple tasks (clapping hands while saying the alphabet), which become increasingly complex as the therapy progresses (driving with a simulator while having a phone conversation).

Orienting attention: automatic or controlled process?

If you carefully read the presentation of the various types of attention, you will see that it can be automatic or controlled. Attention is automatic (i.e. extremely fast and unconscious) when it is guided by external stimulation. This is exogenous attention.

In other cases, orienting your attention can be controlled, or made willingly, i.e. you guide and monitor your attention. It is, therefore, a rather slow process that is partially conscious and consumes a great deal of attentional resources. This is called endogenous attention.

Thus, for instance, exogenous orientation is at work when your attention is drawn to a sudden clap of thunder and bolt of lightning in the sky. But if you stare at the sky looking for stars, then you are controlling your attention; it is endogenous.

It is interesting to try and control processes that are usually automatic. In neuro-psychology, there is a famous test called the STROOP test. It consists of reading the words for colors aloud “BLUE”, “YELLOW”, “ORANGE”… or saying the color that the words are printed in, knowing that the ink color may or may not match the word that it’s written with. For instance, you might need to say the ink color (blue) when faced with the word “YELLOW.” In this case, the automatic process would be to access areas involved in word recognition, reading and meaning, causing us to say “yellow” rather than “blue.” But the aim of the exercise is to train yourself to control an automatic process and inhibit the “yellow” answer you would normally have given.

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Page last updated on Jun 1,2018

Happy Neuron Pro Cognitive Rehab Therapy

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HappyNeuron Pro programs provide healthcare professionals with specifically adapted cognitive stimulation tools for use with their clients.

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