Tag Archives: memory

Using Unique Characteristics to Help Memory

Following a brain injury many survivors face great struggles in the realm of memory.  This can be especially embarrassing when a brain injury survivor has difficulty remembering the name of a person with whom he or she is already well acquainted.  Utilizing techniques that make use of unique characteristics can make it far easier for survivors to remember important names in their lives.

Each person possesses many different characteristics.  These can include height, weight, eye color, tone of voice, expressed clothing preferences, etc.  Trying to remember a person’s name while matching it with all these disparate features can be a daunting task.  When meeting someone for the first time, it is often easier to find the one unique characteristic of the person that stands out most and pair that with the person’s name (e.g. “Paul is the tall guy” or “Susie has a rainbow tattoo on her neck”).  In this way the survivor only has to remember one characteristic in order to recall a person’s name rather than contend with the confusion that would accompany recalling many characteristics.  Unique characteristics can include aspects of physical appearance, dress, voice and behavior.  Let’s give a few examples in each category, using celebrities as examples, to demonstrate how one might execute this technique.

Physical appearance can include height, hair, size/shape of facial features, scars and tattoos.  For instance, former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal has brown eyes, a shaved head and a bright smile.  None of these features necessarily make him stand out.  However, if you were to meet him on the street and were picking one unique characteristic to match with his name, you would likely pick that he is over seven feet tall.  The pairing between height and name would clearly provide a more memorable association than anything involving those other  mentioned characteristics, and would make it far easier to recall Shaq’s name at a later time.  Similarly, comedian Carrot Top is of medium height with fair skin.  Again, these common features would not be useful to pair with his name as an aid to memory.  However, his striking red hair is quite unique and by pairing this unique characteristic with Carrot Top’s name, a survivor would be more likely to later recall his name.

Some people dress in a manner that is simply different from everyone else.  These differences in dress can also be paired with a person’s name in order to make it easier to recall that name.  Michael Jackson was known for wearing one white glove.  No one else was known for effecting that particular fashion choice.  If a survivor would have met Michael and wanted to remember his name, he or she could have paired Michael’s name with the one white glove.  Another example of this can be found in former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  Albright always wore pins on the upper left shoulders of her jackets.  A survivor could pair the pin with her name in order to better recall her name, rather than attempt to utilize any number of additional characteristics she possesses.

Just like a unique physical characteristic or a unique manner of dress, a unique voice can be paired with a person’s name to help remember him or her.  A voice might be recognized as unique due to a distinct tone, a particular accent or use of a singular delivery.  Actor James Earl Jones has a baritone voice which makes him a favorite choice for voice-over work in commercials and the like.  By pairing his deep voice with his name, a survivor could more easily identify him by name at a future meeting.  Similarly, actress Fran Drescher has an unmistakable New York accent which she played up in the television show “The Nanny.”  If a survivor was to meet her for the first time, the survivor could pair her accent with her name to help remember her at a later time rather than trying to remember any other likely more common of her features.

Sometimes, a new acquaintance may demonstrate a behavior that is so different from that of others that it can be used as one of these unique characteristics to aid in memory.  This can sometimes prove a little harder to use for memory unless the person in question demonstrates the identified behavior all of the time.  For instance, Elvis Presley often had a lip twitch/snarl when speaking which other people do not have.   In a different vein, John Wayne walked with his legs spread in a wide gait.  Both a constant lip twitch/snarl and idiosyncratic pattern of walking can be paired to names to more easily remember a person at a later time.

Survivors should not worry about whether the characteristic being used is complimentary to the other person.  If pairing the name “Julie” with “giant nose” helps the survivor remember Julie later, then this is fine.  There is no need to share with the other person that this technique is being used to aid memory.  The key is whether the characteristic is so memorable to the survivor that pairing the characteristic with the name will make it easier for the survivor to remember.  Further, this technique does not prevent the survivor from adding other, more mundane characteristics to his or her memory of the other person.  This technique is primarily designed for when a survivor is first trying to learn the other person’s name.

Hopefully this method will help survivors remember others’ names and be spared the embarrassment of forgetting!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: http://tlcrehab.org/

 

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Using Stories To Aid In List Memory

The human brain is fascinating for so many reasons.  One of these reasons can be seen in the expression of its preference for different styles of memory.  The brain generally has a preference for remembering stories as opposed to random lists of information, even though there are many more words in a story to remember than there are in a list.  It can be demonstrated though that this preference for stories can in fact be used to help bolster the memory for lists of items.

Individuals generally encounter lists of items in areas of daily life related to shopping, school, work, and other like activities.  You may have a list of items that you need to buy at a supermarket.  Your boss may ask you to pick up a list of items from the stockroom to place on shelves.  A teacher may ask you to bring in certain items for a class project.  Although it is of course advisable to write down or record in some manner any such list of items, you may not always have a pen and paper or other recording device available.  If you take such a list of items and turn it into a brief story though, you might be surprised by how much easier it becomes to remember.

Let’s say you have three items to remember to buy at the store: milk, cookies and napkins.  You can use to your advantage the brain’s natural preference for having these items organized as components of a story over simply having them listed one after the other.  It takes little effort to come up with a brief, one-line story that uses these words.  For example, the story in this instance could be “I like to dip my cookies and milk and then wipe my mouth with napkins.”  Most people will find it easier to remember this short story than to remember those same three words in list form.  A similar scenario could be encountered working at a large store like Wal-Mart or Target.  Your  boss may ask you to bring out light bulbs, toilet paper and paper cups.  This is a pretty random list of items which may be difficult to remember in its current form.  Turning this list into a short story may be beneficial.  For instance, the story here could be “There is no light bulb in the bathroom so he tripped over the toilet paper and knocked over the paper cups.”  Again, by putting the list of words into a brief story, the brain will find it easier to remember the information.

There are a few handy pointers to keep in mind when turning a list of items into a story.  First, the story should be relatively brief.  If you are trying to remember three or four words, the story should not be much longer than a single complex sentence.  Five or six items may require a story to be two to three lines long.  A story cannot be so long that it becomes itself difficult to remember.  The story should also create a visual image in your mind.  If you can “see” the story in your mind, then chances are that you’ve succeeded in creating a story useful in achieving the objective of bolstering memory in this way.  Using one of the previous examples, you may be able to imagine someone in a dark room tripping over toilet paper and knocking over cups sitting by the sink.  If you can see this happening in your mind, then the story worked for you.  It is very important that the story be one that is functional for you.  You should not concern yourself about whether others would like your story or find your story odd.  Too often, brain injury survivors using this method will self-censor their stories because they feel that others might not like those stories as they initially occur to the survivors.  These stories exist only to aid our memories.  The opinions others might hold of them therefore are not truly relevant.

This method of improving memory takes practice but once you get comfortable with the method, it can be very useful!  Please leave me a comment below with any questions, thoughts or ideas!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

TLC Success Story: Kody Fields

Kody Fields, a talented and athletic young man from North Texas, was involved in a terrible vehicle collision in 2008.  Through his hard work and with the help of the Transitional Learning Center staff, Kody has been able to attend college.  Kody is truly an inspiration to others.  TLC is proud to have helped him in his journey.  Click on the link below to read his story.

http://www.kcbd.com/story/24776214/spc-student-overcomes-trauma-to-attend-college

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

 

The Role of Support Groups

Going through life with a brain injury can be a remarkably difficult experience for a brain injury survivor.  Life has changed, often in many dramatic ways.  Sometimes utilizing the most basic of skills, such as using the restroom or remembering to turn off an oven, can present the most complex of challenges.  Life is often just as hard (and in some aspects can be even harder) for the survivor’s family.  Everything has changed for them, too.  Family members often find that new roles are now required of them and that new stressors now confront them at every turn.  A wife may now find herself serving as her husband’s primary caregiver.  A brother may now necessarily be conscripted as his sibling’s chauffeur to constant doctor’s appointments.  On top of all this, there is so much to learn in a field with which both survivors and family members almost always have little to no previous familiarity.  This can make for an incredibly lonely experience.  Survivors and family members may ask themselves, “Is there anyone else in the world who knows what this feels like?”  While the brain injury survivor is a patient in an inpatient rehabilitation program (a very common experience in post-injury life), the survivor can often rely upon the camaraderie of fellow patients.  Family members may become friendly with the family members of other survivors and chat on a regular basis.  Both survivors and their families will have regular contact with staff who are able to provide support and knowledge.  However once the survivor discharges from that inpatient facility, he or she suddenly has little to no contact with other brain injury survivors.  Families lose contact with each other and no longer have available as an option just popping in to a therapist’s office for a quick question.  This is when the brain injury experience can be its most lonely.

 
Support groups can help fill this gap.  Support groups are groups of individuals with similar experiences that meet on a regular basis to discuss those experiences.  Individuals may offer suggestions and advice or just provide a shoulder to lean on.  Support groups exist for a wide selection of health-related issues ranging from living with cancer and diabetes to coping with grief, struggling with substance abuse, and of course, rebuilding one’s life in the aftermath of a brain injury.

 
There are two primary types of support groups that are most relevant to brain injury survivors, namely stroke support groups and brain injury support groups.  Stroke groups tend to be more common than brain injury support groups, though in most larger population areas one will be able to find a brain injury support group in addition to stroke support groups.  Among stroke support groups, there is a small subset that are specific to aneurysms (though survivors of aneurysms and their families are of course welcomed in a general stroke support group).  Support groups are often run out of hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, community centers and houses of worship.  If a group’s meetings take place in a hospital, usually the survivor does not have to be a patient (past or present) of that particular hospital in order to attend.  In addition to the aforementioned support groups, there are support groups designed to address certain specific symptoms of brain injuries.  For example, there are aphasia support groups, apraxia support groups and memory support groups.

 
Each support group tends to have its own individual program and essential dynamic.  Some provide more educational content while others tend to offer more of an emotional/social support program.  Some are survivor oriented, others family oriented and still others are oriented to both survivors and their families.  If you do not feel suitably comfortable at one group, you can always attend another group.  Also, there are available some online support groups necessarily better suited to those who have difficulty leaving their homes.  Some survivors and families will even create their own groups when confronted by a lack of groups tailored to their specific needs in their vicinity.

 
Below are a few links that may aid in finding a support group:

 

For brain injury support groups, click on your state affiliate of the Brain Injury Association of America and scroll to the Support Groups section:

http://www.biausa.org/state-affiliates.htm

Stroke support groups:

http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/strokegroup/public/zipFinder.jsp

http://www.stroke.org/stroke-resources/stroke-support-groups

In addition, the American Stroke Association has a family support phone program called the Stroke Family Warmline.  The Warmline phone number is 1-888-478-7653.

Aneurysm support groups:

http://www.bafound.org/support

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

New Year’s Disorientation

As 2014 comes to a close and 2015 is upon us, some brain injury survivors may find themselves facing greater than normal levels of disorientation.  Often brain injury survivors, particularly those with memory deficits or in the earlier stages of recovery, will have trouble keeping track of basic orientation information such as the month or the day of the week.  The change in year represents yet one more piece of new information they have to worry about remembering.  Survivors may seem confused or express doubt when told of the change in year.  Some survivors may even argue that therapists, staff and family are giving them false information.

 
Many patients with orientation difficulties can get stuck on the last date or location they remember and have trouble incorporating new information.  For example, a survivor may last remember living in Dallas and struggle with integrating into his or her life knowledge of moving in post-injury with his or her parents in Houston.  This same issue can occur with a change in year.  As the survivor last remembers the year being 2014, it takes considerable effort to make the switch to recognizing that it’s now 2015 (and to making realization of that switch stick).  To put it in perspective, people often temporarily forget the correct year during the first few days of January and will then write the wrong year on checks.  But imagine if instead of being stuck on the wrong year for a few moments, you continually find yourself stuck on the wrong year for weeks upon weeks.  This is what brain injury survivors with orientation deficits may experience when confronted by a change of year.

 
Brain injury survivors can be helped by keeping relevant orientation information presented in many easily accessible locations.  Families and survivors may want to place more calendars around the home.  If a survivor has considerable problems with disorientation, he or she will likely do best with a one page per day calendar, one that displays on each page the day, date and year.  This type of calendar can generally be found at teller stations in banks in order to help ensure that customers write the correct date on checks.  This is in contrast to the month at a glance calendar, in which the entire month is shown on a single page.  The date can also be written on a dry erase calendar in a bedroom or on a refrigerator so that the survivor can easily see the new year.

 
Families can also make extra effort to insert the correct year into daily conversation.  This can be done simply by saying more often than one might otherwise things like “Wow, 2015 has really started off well for us” or “I’m glad that 2015 has rolled around as last year was quite difficult.”  The more that a survivor is exposed to the correct information, the more quickly and permanently he or she will learn this new information.

 
Lastly, please make sure to dispose of old calendars and similar items displaying the old year as quickly as possible.  Some brain injury survivors will become confused or distressed when confronted by both an old calendar and a new calendar.  This can cause a temporary (and entirely avoidable) setback in efforts to properly align orientation.

 

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

 

Holiday Adjustments-Part 1: Location

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is important to be aware of the potential need for adjustments to be made to holiday celebrations in order to accommodate a brain injury survivor’s injury-related deficits.  Having a brain injury does not stop a survivor from celebrating a holiday, but it may put a few wrinkles into holiday plans.  Part 1 in this series on holiday adjustments will focus on some thoughts regarding the location of celebrations.

 
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed regarding the location of holiday celebrations in such a scenario.  First, if the survivor is in a wheelchair or uses another assistive device to aid mobility and is going to someone else’s home, is that home accessible?  Keep in mind that it is much easier to get a wheelchair across a hard floor than across carpeting and that for some survivors, a large pile (a term used to denote length of carpet fibers) carpet can provide quite the inconvenience.  Also, is there enough room in the bathroom for a wheelchair?  Should the survivor bring along a urinal if it is too hard to access the toilet?  If the survivor has problems with incontinence, is there somewhere available that the survivor could  be cleaned or change clothes if necessary?  Some families of brain injury survivors find that it is easier to host holiday celebrations at their own homes rather than travel to the homes of others since their homes have already been adapted to the needs of the survivor.

 
Survivors and their families should also consider the physical layout of the rooms where a celebration will take place.  For instance, it may help to move tables and chairs into a different configuration in order to make it easier for the survivor to move through.  A big issue to look for in the consideration of a given room is trip hazards, particularly around Christmas.  It is important that toys and gifts not be left around on the floor as these can easily become trip hazards and could cause the survivor to suffer a bad fall.  Alternatively, most toys tend not to fair well when a wheelchair runs them over.  Cords from Christmas trees or lights can also become trip hazards and should be placed in a manner that will not pose danger to a mobile survivor.  There are many other practical issues to consider regarding the holiday meal.  Can the survivor reach a given dish or will he or she need help?  Has silverware been left on a counter that is too high for the survivor to reach?  Can the front of the survivor’s wheelchair fit under the table?  If the survivor uses an augmentative speech device like an Ipad, is there room at the table for it?  Is a side table perhaps needed for the device to be placed upon?  Small changes in room and furniture layouts can make a huge difference to both a survivor’s sense of inclusion and his or her overall enjoyment of a holiday celebration.

 
The weather can also play a notable role in adjustment to different locations.  Walking up an icy pathway can be quite difficult and possibly dangerous.  Some survivors who normally use a walker may be safer in a wheelchair over these icy surfaces.  Moreover, some survivors in wheelchairs may need more help getting across an icy or snowy surface.  In such a situation a loved one may need to aid in pushing more than would otherwise be required or just pay attention to helping keep the chair from sliding in the wrong direction.

 
Families of brain injury survivors may want to put some thought into how loud they allow holiday celebrations to be.  Some survivors find that they are more sensitive to noise than previously and loud noises may provide a catalyst for unwanted agitation and/or anger.  These survivors may benefit from attending smaller celebrations or spending their time in a quieter room away from the main celebrations.  This can also be a relevant issue when considering attendance of holiday religious services.  Some survivors may find busier houses of worship  or busier times at those houses of worship to be problematic and may do better at less busy times or benefit from selecting a less busy house of worship.

 
One more such consideration associated with location relates to how many celebrations a survivor and his or her family may be planning to attend.  Some families have the tradition of going from house to house to multiple holiday celebrations throughout the day.  However, survivors often become fatigued quite easily and holiday celebrations tend to be long and active events.  For many survivors, attending multiple celebrations in the same day may be very difficult.  Some survivors may benefit from spending a shorter amount of time at each such celebration.  Survivors and families must also consider the fatigue sure to accompany constant transferring to and from vehicles and the necessary related packing up and unpacking of equipment.  For instance, getting a wheelchair in and out of a car repeatedly throughout a day can be very taxing on the backs of survivors’ families.

 
These are some of the considerations regarding the location of holiday celebrations that survivors and their families may wish to think about when identifying adjustments that may need be made to holiday celebrations.  The next part of this series will focus more specifically on brain injury survivors’ participation in holiday celebrations.

 

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

 

Goodbye, Kent

As much as patients learn from their d0ctors and therapists, their doctors and therapists learn from them.    Many brain injury survivors have given generously of their time and energy in order to help further research and understanding of brain injuries.  Kent Cochrane, known in research literature by his initials “KC”, participated in many studies which allowed researchers to learn a great deal about memory.  Mr. Cochrane is one of the best known survivors to have volunteered as a research subject and fields related to the study of brain injury have greatly benefited from his generosity.  Mr. Cochrane recently passed away but his legacy will live on.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/famed-canadian-amnesiac-kent-cochrane-dies-at-62-1.1756363

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Tony Dorsett

Tony Dorsett was one of the greatest players in football history.  Over the years he began to experience memory loss, mood swings and thoughts of suicide.  He took the initiative to be tested for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a brain damage experienced secondary to multiple traumas to the brain.  In Dorsett’s case, these traumas occurred as a result of the thousands upon thousands of hits he endured  over the course of his playing career.  Dorsett was found to have signs of CTE.  The link below will bring you to a video in which he discusses his experience learning to cope with the symptoms of brain injury. In addition to providing further detail on Dorsett’s story, the article beneath the video relates the similar experiences of Hall of Fame lineman Joe DeLamielleure and All Pro linebacker Leonard Marshall as they also have experienced brain injury symptoms and received the CTE diagnosis.

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9931754/former-nfl-stars-tony-dorsett-leonard-marshall-joe-delameilleure-show-indicators-cte-resulting-football-concussions

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Visual and Verbal Memory

Most information that we try to remember usually comes through only two of our five senses, vision and hearing.  Interestingly, the memories we make for this information is generally stored in two separate parts of our brain.  We tend to store verbal memories from the information that we heard in the left side of the brain.  We tend to store visual memories from the information that we saw in the right side of the brain.  One way that we can help our memory is by using both sides of our brain during memory tasks.

We can help our verbal memory by taking the information that we hear and creating pictures in our mind  of the information.  For instance, you might be told three items you need to buy in the store.  While trying to remember the words, you can imagine what those three items look like while sitting in your shopping cart.  In this way you both have verbal memories from when you heard the items told to you and visual memories from imagining yourself with those items in your cart.  Similarly, you can bolster your visual memory with your verbal memory.  For instance, you could try to remember where you parked your car at a store and at the same time you were visually looking at the parking spot, you could also verbally describe to yourself where you were parked.  In this example, you might look at the spot while telling yourself, “I am parked by the red pole, two spaces from the large concrete block.”  Your sight would provide the visual memory and the words would add  the verbal memory.  In these ways, both sides of your brain can be involved in helping you to remember information.  The more places you have information stored in your brain, the more easily you can later access that information.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

NFL Brain Injury Settlement

The National Football League (NFL) has recently settled a lawsuit brought on by over 4500 former players and their families for brain injuries those players suffered on the playing field.  The NFL agreed to pay $765 million which will go towards medical expenses, compensation, research and court costs.  To put into perspective the number of former players involved in this lawsuit, this year the entire league has only 1696 active players.

http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/08/29/nfl-reaches-765-million-settlement-in-concussion-lawsuit/

However, this may not be the end of brain injury-related lawsuits for the NFL.  Four more players have recently sued the NFL and helmet maker Riddell for brain injuries suffered on the field.  Riddell was not part of the aforementioned settlement.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2013/09/03/new-concussion-lawsuit-against-nfl-helmet-maker-riddell/2761113/

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org