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Concentration Problems

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Summary

Concentration problems, including having difficulty staying focused or maintaining attention span is an issue many people face every day. It’s normal to feel distracted or absent minded from time to time, particularly when experiencing a strong emotion such as stress, joy, elation, grief or sadness. However when ‘brain fog’ is persistent and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it could be a symptom of something else, whether it be an underlying condition or a lifestyle factor.

A neuropsychologist can help to diagnose the cause of concentration problems.

Quick facts

Very common
Medium difficulty to treat

Did you know?

Less than one quarter of adults living with ADHD have been diagnosed

source: ADDults with ADHD

Concentration problems are a common occurrence for most people at different times throughout their lives. Having trouble with attention or maintaining proper focus can be caused by dietary, environmental, hereditary, chemical or hormonal factors. Many women in particular will be able to identify with having ‘baby brain’ throughout pregnancy, or fogginess during menopause. Similarly, men with a testosterone imbalance can also experience issues with concentration or their attention span.

The brain is a very complex organ, which relies on oxygen, chemical and hormonal balance, nutrients and sleep in order to function most effectively. When one or more of these elements is out of balance or lacking, this can result in concentration problems such as trouble staying awake, issues staying focus and difficulties staying organised.

Causes of concentration problems

  • Tiredness
  • Stress
  • Emotional stress
  • Brain injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Toxic exposure (poisoning)
  • Genetics
  • Chronic illness
  • Some medications
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Sleep disorders
  • Head injury
  • Multitasking
  • Boredom
  • Distractions
  • Adult ADHA
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hormonal changes
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Learning disabilities

Symptoms of concentration problems

Having trouble with concentration and attention can be incredibly frustrating and provoke feelings of helplessness or failure – particularly for people who in the past have always found themselves to be organised and focused.

People with concentration problems may experience one or more of the following:

  • Finding simple tasks more difficult to focus on
  • Feeling overwhelmed by normal every-day tasks
  • Having difficulty communicating effectively or carrying on a conversion
  • Having trouble forming thoughts
  • Feelings of impulsiveness
  • Having difficulty staying awake
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts
  • Having trouble keeping track of ‘to-do’ lists
  • Feeling as though your mind keeps jumping from thought to thought
  • Having trouble staying organised
  • Problems with basic decision making

Top tips for improving concentration

  • keep your mind active and stimulated with brain games and exercises
  • try meditation, or some kind of relaxation technique to help improve your attention span
  • challenge your mind and learn something new, such as by doing a short course or learning a new language
  • exercise regularly and keep active
  • use an app or some other system to help you keep track of tasks and improve your productivity
  • try to eat a diet high in good fats, including omega fatty acids and low in saturated fat
  • stay hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • avoid consuming too much caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
  • don’t overload your mind with too much at once – multitasking is not always a good thing
  • prioritize your tasks and focus on completing bigger job first, then smaller jobs later

Effective treatment of concentration problems

Depending on the underlying cause of your concentration problems – whether it’s being provoked by an internal or external source as well as your personal circumstances, treatment can vary from person to person. Brain exercises, dietary adjustments and therapy are common treatments, which can be carried out and administered at home.

A clinical neuropsychologist may be able to help by providing cognitive counselling or rehabilitation for people suffering from concentration problems. In more serious cases where ADHD, depression or another condition is diagnosed, medication may also be prescribed.


This page has been produced, reviewed and approved by:

Dr Judy Tang

BSc (Behavioural Neuroscience & Psychology), PhD (Clinical Neuropsychology) MAPS

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Dr Judy Tang has over 10 years of career and academic expertise in Clinical Neuropsychology.

With a PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology from Monash University (2008) and a Bachelor of Science with honours (majoring in psychology and behavioural neuroscience), she provides neuropsychological services for medico-legal and community settings, workshops and seminars both to her professional peers and wider community, as well as advocacy in the areas of health and community care.

Simultaneously, she also works with the Lincoln Centre for Research on Ageing, researching persons with dementia and their carers, as well as the ACAS evaluation unit. Her mastery of quantitative research has been utilised on the state and national level for its Aged Care Assessment Program. She has also worked as a Rehabilitation Consultant for CRS Australia.

Among numerous organizations, she is an executive member of the Australian Association of Gerontology’s Victorian branch (AAG), a member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the college of Clinical Neuropsychologists (CCN), and the Victorian Police and Multicultural Advisory Committee.

In addition to speaking frequently at professional seminars and conferences around the world, Judy is also published in numerous journals on such topics as healthy ageing, anxiety and pain, and dementia.


This document was last updated and reviewed in May 2016.

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