March is Brain Injury awareness month, so it seems appropriate to discuss some memory strategies. Memory is defined as “the ability to recall events on command.” We all would love to have better memories, however, sometimes life events occur that alter this ability, but there are strategies that can help.
Adapt your environment: Hang a dry erase board in your kitchen or office to write down reminders or needed grocery items. You can also keep a dry erase calendar in a central area of your house or office to keep track of your daily/weekly activities. Some of you may be saying that you already do this on your Smart Phone, which is great, but for some folks after a brain injury, they need to “see” reminders to help improve memory skills – a visual reminder. If you want to use your Smart Phone for reminders, make sure to alarm your reminders. You could even set a daily alarm to remind yourself to look at your schedule! If Smart Phones are confusing, you can carry a datebook and get in the habit of reviewing the datebook every morning to review your day’s activities. Make sure you put things back in the same spot (e.g. keys on the hook by the door, coat in the closet, briefcase on the desk in the home office, bills in a basket, etc.) this will help build a routine of where items are to be found and it will significantly decrease your frustration when searching for the items (especially if you are in a hurry!). Routines are very important for memory because they help build long term memories, which is where information we want to retrieve exists.
Improve your wellbeing: Anxiety, stress and depression can significantly decrease memory skills. You need to have a balance between work and relaxation, so seek out/plan enjoyable activities outside of your work day. Maintain friendships and talk about your difficulties and frustrations, you never know who will give you some good strategy suggestions! Stay physically active, even simple exercises like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help. Be assertive; learn to say “no” to excessive demands. This one is really important, manage you time and take breaks. Sometimes after sustaining a brain injury people want to “push” themselves to get better, but this is actually counterproductive. Your body and brain need time to heal and taking breaks is the best way to make progress. Do one thing at a time; establish a goal and break the steps down into smaller, more manageable parts.
Other helpful cognitive strategies: Attention is the key to a better memory, so try to focus on information you want to remember and reduce the background distractions. When trying to remember new information, make associations with existing information in your memory. Mentally retrace your steps to trigger your memory for where you may have left an item. Hang reminder signs or use sticky notes to trigger memories of activities you want/need to do. When trying to recall a list of items, chunk the like items together to be able to recall them more easily.
As a neurorehabilitation specialist I have taught many of these strategies to my clients over the years and the majority had a lot of success. Recovering from a brain injury can take time, but using strategies consistently can definitely help.
Carol Bardsley, M.A., CPCRT, CBIS – At The Center I facilitate the Therapeutic Activities Group, which is an educational group for people who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. I also provide one-on-one Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy to clients either in their homes or in our office. In addition, I assist Dr. J. Stone with the neuropsychological evaluations.