When it happens
Early mild stage through mild and moderate stages.
Why it happens
The ability to control attention is needed for memory, and one of the first effects of brain changes seems to be a loss of this control. Everyone has a hard time paying attention sometimes, especially when tired or stressed. But when it happens often, as in early dementia, it may look like an inability to read as quickly as before or with as much comprehension, adding figures much more slowly, losing track of a conversation, or being confused by multistep directions, even simple ones.
What you can do
Allow more time for everyday tasks. Concentrating is taxing.
Don't assume that basic skills like reading, adding, or joining a conversation can no longer be done. Especially early in dementia, many of the same capabilities are still present; they just take longer.
Help your loved one avoid multitasking. Shifting attention between two different tasks or types of brain input is especially challenging -- and frustrating. Encourage him or her to focus on one thing at a time.
Consider larger-print books or magazines. Fewer words per page can be easier to digest.
For a devoted reader whom you notice reading the same page of a book over and over, suggest audio books. Concentration may still be challenging, but some people find the experience more enjoyable.
Talk directly to the person, speaking slowly and clearly, with a minimum of background noise or other distractions. One-on-one conversations work much better than group discussions.
Consider whether your loved one has changed medications or dosage recently. Lapses in concentration are a common side effect. Dementia isn't the only cause.