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Sunday, March 2, 2014

How I function from day to day with short term memory difficulty

This is adapted from something I wrote earlier today, explaining why I constantly keep notes and receipts past the point when most people throw them away.
Because of memory problems, I record meetings and I request copies of notes from any professionals I work with, including lawyers, doctors, dentists, and anyone else I work with who takes notes during a meeting. I also take notes, but they often make little sense to me later unless I can associate them with other information I gathered. Every piece of information I am able to collect, I transcribe recordings, and I scan and OCR text. So these pieces of information can be indexed and tagged for future searches. As I scan and OCR other people's notes, I often need to make corrections, so that I have basically rewritten their notes, but I also keep the original notes with them. I do that so the notes will be indexed in a way that I will be able to find in the future, when my memories have faded.

The input methods that have proven most useful are:

1) Automated phone recordings with indexed manual summary transcripts
2) Scanned and indexed receipts, instructions, and warranty materials (a daily task that with a fast scanner takes about 15 minutes a day)
3) Scanned hand-written notes that I made for myself during the course of a day
4) A backup plan for every commitment (every appointment goes in my hand-written calendar, and directly to Google Calendar via my phone or note pad if possible) I also ask for a contact card with the appointment time written on it. Then each night, I scan the card, Add it to my contacts database, make sure I have recorded the appointment correctly on Google Calendar, and then I link the contact card to the appointment record. I have automated reminders that will ensure any event on Google calendar will trigger a series of alarms on my phone, and I add other people to also receive those alarms if they will be affected by the appointment, such as when my absence will mean the car will not be available to someone else in the family, or in the case of long trips, to ensure I can have someone go with me. (I take my two-hour "active" window seriously. I don't want to get caught out-of-town in a confused state of mind with no one with me to ensure I make it home safely.)
5) I have a coach (trusted friend) who will keep asking me weekly about what I'm doing, what are my priorities, and who makes sure I'm not ignoring any commitments
6) A planning session each morning that mostly involves a daily template plus an automated calendar, a paper "to do" list, a "cloud-based" "to do" list (so I can enter things from my phone)
7) Taking regular naps before I get confused
8) A review session to add "tags" to my notes (make sure that words I might use to locate a note either exist in the note as text, or add them to a "keywords" list for each note)
9) A reflection session each evening to review my notes and create a short narrative of how my day went. I also use that time to write the current week's appointments and commitments to a white-board calendar I keep on the kitchen refrigerator in case I fail to keep other family members informed of my schedule and commitments.

If only the process of managing daily records didn't take so long, I could be functioning on a much more normal level. One thing I intend to work on next is finding ways to simplify steps for data gathering: especially learning to use voice commands for the computer and to dictate notes.

Even the most disorganized mind can follow a "to do" list if it is right there, with items to check off as they are completed.

I'm close to the point where I think I could accommodate lack of short-term memory if I could find a way to automatically create a set of connections to make up for what that my mind fails to make because of memory difficulties. I picture the ultimate solution as an indexing system that resembles a mind-map, that could encode the natural mental connections we all make between events.

If I ever get this system down, I may write a book about the process. I think it would be of interest to more than just people with brain injuries or other memory difficulties. I'm not ready for that yet. Right now, I'm making the system up as I go, and occasionally finding a short-cut here and there, learning which steps are less useful, and which ones prove to be most valuable.