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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A complaint about memory and focus

A friend suggested this series of Facebook posts would be a helpful contribution to my blog, so here are my comments (copied with minor editing) from Facebook.

June 26, 2012

10:36 am I am frustrated with my slow recovery (if it's a recovery). I just called Bowen Center to reschedule an appointment I missed Friday morning. They told me I was at that appointment. I would think I would know whether I was there! What I remembered about Friday morning was the activity around the yard sale, not a trip to the counselor's office. Preparing to argue that I knew what I did Friday morning, and that it did not include going to their office, I realized one of my Friday errands was to go pick up a new prescription that had been ordered that morning...

1:48 pm I just walked to the mailbox to check the mail, with a handful of envelopes in my hand that I just got from the mailbox... I did something else twice this morning that I was going to mention, but I forgot what it was. 

I wonder how much time gets spent double-doing various tasks?

1:50 pm Our cat just "told" me I haven't fed him yet. As I explained to him that I remember feeding him, he sat listening intently, and looking rather fat...

1:53 pm My own weight is slowly (very slowly) going down. I think I'm forgetting more meals than I'm doubling...


June 27, 2012
~3:00 pm One of the people investigating my car insurance claim called today around 3:00 pm. I had just awakened from a nap that started around 10:00 am. I was having one of my occasional "bright" moments when I think fast and speak clearly. The person commented that I have obviously improved. I'm sure it seemed that way at the time, but they should have heard me earlier today. I never know how to handle that kind of situation. I have to trust that the truth is apparent to those who know me, and that their perspectives will be heard and recorded as part of the whole investigation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recent Facebook post: One of my worst days

Wednesday, June 20 at 12:43am via mobile
Today was one of my worst days since the accident. I only had two brief profitable periods of time today if shaking and slapping my head to stay awake can be called profitable time, but much of the time I felt a dark feeling that i was forgetting something important, all the while feeling confused about the date and time. At 7:30 pm I suddenly jumped out of bed startled because I thought I was late fixing breakfast.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Living with short-term memory loss

I just caught myself in the fourth loop of deciding I needed a paper towel to clean excess oil from potatoes I was preparing to cook, then discovering there were no paper towels, then, no longer remembering why I was looking for paper towels, trying to think of something profitable I could do to help prepare the meal. Then I thought the potatoes need to be prepared... (loop again).

Finally, Jonath
an (my son) interrupted me before I left to look for paper towels, asking "where are the paper towels?" With the loop broken, I was able to think about his question, and I said, they must still be in the back of the car. (They had fallen from where they were put in the car, and were hidden under a seat.) Now, all is well, until the next episode of "Living with short-term memory loss."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

THANK YOU Mission America from Church of the Heartland!

Several days now, I have delayed posting a big thank you for some overwhelming help our family received recently. I held off because the blessing was SO overwhelming that I was concerned it could actually cause difficulties for the people who blessed us if I said publicly exactly what they did. However, after giving it some thought, I have decided the good that comes from telling people what God has done, overrides any negative effects that might happen. (My fear was that if the wrong people know what was done, they could be overwhelmed with requests for help.)
This has been an amazing week for our family as we experience the generosity of many people in our community (see my previous post, "Several days now," about my delay in posting this thank you). I'm almost sure to leave someone out as I highlight what happened.

Wednesday, "Mission America" from the Church of the Heartland, sent over 20 people of all ages to our home. They repaired our mower and cut our grass. They cleared away most of the rest of the brush in our yard. At least one girl cleared our gutters, removed fallen limbs from the roof, and swept and washed the roof of our house. Someone trimmed our bushes and cut down low branches from our trees. Someone painted our railing on our front and back porches. Someone painted our porch swing (I had been especially concerned that immediate maintenance was needed or we would loose that swing.) Chain saws cut up the thick, heavy hardwood trunk into manageable (if 300 lbs is manageable) pieces. Several trailer loads of wood and brush were removed from our yard. Ivy was removed from the foundation of our house. POISON IVY was removed from several areas of our yard. (I heard someone beginning to complain about an itch before she left. I told her about the poison Ivy soap they sell at CVS.) Have I left anything out? I'm sure I have.

Then, they stocked both of our freezers with quality cuts of meat. Hams, roasts, chops, and ground meats. They packed our pantry with canned fruit, pancake mix and lots of other stuff. I am overwhelmed.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The unexpected effects of short-term (working) memory loss

(Please forgive my laziness in posting an article before it is properly documented.) 

One might reasonably think that anyone capable of writing blog entries surely cannot be severely disabled. In fact, I question myself a lot of the time. I started seeing a counselor a couple of months ago primarily because I had difficulty believing my own limitations. I thought surely there must be something else going on. How is it that I can write a meaningful essay or research paper, but I struggle to create an outline? Why did I have no trouble doing my own taxes, but a simple cancelation form for an online service was impossible?

One answer is, much of the work I do derives from long-term memory, and my long-term memory appears unaffected. Topics I have previously considered are already outlined in my long-term memory, and essays seem to write themselves as I sit at the keyboard. It takes longer for me to document references than it takes me to write a paper. On the other hand, outlining a paper has proven nearly impossible for me, because outlining involves working with ideas in short-term memory.

Another issue with short-term memory is the affect of interruptions. When an unfamiliar form requires information I am not accustomed to reporting, lack of short-term memory can make the task impossible. Especially if other interruptions present themselves, the time it takes to find an answer can cause me to forget why I needed that answer. Since my accident, it has become common for me to locate an object such as a book or a file, only to have no clue why I needed it. Worse, if there are secondary interruptions, I may lay the file aside, and not recall that I had it. When I eventually come back to the task, needed items are not where they go, and the task has become more difficult to complete.

             One Thing! 
I have a couple of solutions for problems like these. My counselor suggested that I only create work lists with ONE THING on them. I use 3x5 cards for my one thing “list.” Additional notes have to do with those tangents that imposed themselves on me as I was completing my ONE THING. Another work-around is to encode audible memory into visual memory. Once encoded, visual memory is faster, and it can hold more information at a time than audible memory, but often the mental overhead of encoding will cause details to be lost.

Find ways to use existing symbols to reduce the overheard. Visualize fractions as slices of pie rather than keeping numbers in mind. Use the first random image that comes to mind to visually record names. The other day, during a neurological test, I was asked to keep three words in mind, “Chicago, power, and table.” I pictured a table saw with a “Chicago” album in place of a blade. Several days later, I still remember the words I was asked to recall.

Regarding outlines, I have found mind-maps to be a helpful way to pre-organize information for an outline. Mind-maps are like a brainstorm on paper. Write a main idea, then write connected ideas around those ideas, and draw lines to connect those ideas. Use pictures with your words. Mind-maps rely on visual memory along with audible memory. My short-term memory deficit is in audible memory, but my visual short-term memory seems to be fine. Your situation may be different than mine, but your individual strengths are also different than mine. Combining different kinds of memory will help you.

Simplify and declutter
I have been simplifying the way I file information. I used to maintain complex and redundant folders of information so I could have multiple ways to access information, but even with a healthy brain, the indexing of information became a nearly full-time job. Consequently, NOTHING got indexed much of the time, and my secondary method of filing everything together based on the date tended to override more meaningful methods of filing. Now I try to limit folders to three categories based on the book “The art of getting things done.” (cite)

Toss, Archive, Hold
My three categories, which I got from Life Hacker (citation) are 1) toss, 2) keep forever, and 3) hold for a while. The “hold” category has two sub-categories: the things I want to work with soon, and the things that are waiting for action by someone else (and may need follow-up).

Use Tags, not Indexes
Instead of indexing items by topic, I borrow Google’s concept of tags to categorize items for searches. Tags should broadly answer the familiar “who, what, when, why, how much” questions. They may include project names. They may include the context where the work will be done. It is good to create a few tags and use them often. It is good to limit total numbers of tags. Ideally, everything should have at least three tags, and nothing should have more than five tags. When you file documents, look for a “tags” property. Most modern software includes tags. Every photo needs a date, a place, and names of people. Every letter has a reason it was written, a recipient, and a sender, and possibly a company name. Files stored with tags can be searched in most modern operating systems. You can also use a cloud-based system such as Evernote(citation) to keep all files organized and available across multiple platforms(cite life-hacker).

Kinds of Memory
Most people have strong audible and visual memory (cite kinds of memory), and to varying degrees, use both kinds of memory all the time. Other people may find that textures and smells may be better ways of storing short-term information. Recognize your own learning style, and incorporate what you know about yourself to actively make what you learn a part of yourself. I believe there is another “learning style” that is so basic and so universal that it is often overlooked: social learning.

“Social Synapses”
I believe that our social connections are primary to thinking and memory. Discussing ideas, whether in a serious academic discussion, or in a wise-cracking informal context, can make connections between you and other people that are like having additional synapses in your own brain. Students who routinely study with a group, discussing ideas with each other, make “living” connections, and associations with the material they are learning. Our brains are wired to value other people. Social learning motivates the brain, and information is stored with a social dimension that cannot be duplicated with solitary “dead” learning (cite a social learning source). When you are struggling with memory issues, make use of other people as a resource, like a “back-up” of your own memory, but don’t ask others to remember for you. Do your own work. Instead of asking for facts, discuss shared ideas and experiences that will awaken your own mind, and your own memory.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Distinguishing normal anxiety and symptoms of an anxiety disorder

Immediately after a brain injury it is normal and understandable to feel embarrassed about mistakes that would not have been made prior to the injury. Under such circumstances, It is normal to avoid situations that would expose weaknesses that did not exist prior to the injury. However, if those new behaviors persist and become habitual avoidance of routine aspects of life, the avoidance can become worse than the situations that trigger the avoidance. The following was clipped from the website of the International Association of Anxiety Disorders:

(“Understanding anxiety,” 2010)