The ability to pay attention is perhaps the most essential component of human cognition. When we are able to pay attention, or “attend” we can accurately observe our environment. When we observe we can remember and when we can remember we can learn.
Without adequate attention skills, all other components of cognition will be negatively impacted.
For example, imagine you are studying for a test. If you aren’t able to adequately concentrate in order to really absorb the material you are studying, how will you ever remember it when it comes time to take the test? Will you have even “made” the memories in the first place?
Many individuals who experience a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) will have difficulty with attention skills. At GLA, many of our clients with TBI experience deficits in attention and our therapists understand that because of this other cognitive deficits such as memory or visual perceptual skills will become even more problematic.
The ability to pay attention is a complex process. There are many components of attention including auditory, visual, selective, divided and alternating attention. We switch between different types of attention without even realizing it and we often use more than one form of attention at a time. All aspects of attention are required for adequate performance in many of our daily activities of living.
Think of the task of driving. When you are driving your car you need to divide your attention to focus on the road while you use the indicator lever to signal that you are turning. You need selective attention skills in order to focus on the road and tune out the radio or other distractions and you need to use alternating attention to shift your focus while glancing at the side and rear-view mirrors.
As attention is such a crucial component of overall cognitive functioning, occupational therapists almost always include measures of attention in functional-cognitive assessments as well as to guide their interventions.
The Test Of Everyday Attention (TEA Test) is a reliable and valid standardized test used frequently by OTs at GLA. The TEA Test is used to assess a client’s attention abilities in various everyday activities. The 8 subtests measure specific attention systems, including selective attention, sustained attention, attentional switching, and divided attention.
The TEA Test is designed to be functional in nature by asking the client to imagine that they are going on a trip to Philadelphia. Each subtest asks the client to complete real-life activities such as locating restaurants on a map, searching through various phone numbers and listening for winning lottery numbers.
The results of the TEA Test provide scores for multiple areas of attention and compares the client’s scores with the norms for his or her age group.
The client’s performance on the TEA Test provides OTs with information about the specific areas of attention that may be problematic for the client. The OT is then able to design a highly targeted intervention program.
Using the TEA Test in conjunction with an OT’s unique ability to provide functional analysis and observation of the client in a natural context provides essential information for both assessing deficits in attention and providing targeted treatment.
Written by: Kathryn Decker, MSc, OT, Reg. (Ont)
Registered Occupational Therapist