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Brain Injury Brooke

Getting lost after a brain injury


Do you struggle to find your way around? Did you struggle before your injury? I was never the greatest navigator before, but it got so much worse post brain injury! All of a sudden, trying to find my way anywhere that was new to me was like trying to go through a maze blindfolded… backwards! I didn't know where I was going, and I couldn't remember where I had been! Having difficulties finding your way around after a brain injury is common. I don't think that I have spoken to anybody that hasn't struggled with it to some extent. In fact, if they don't appear to struggle with it, then they have probably found a solution.

I first experienced this in Ward C2 of Salford Royal Hospital in 2007 when I tried to get in bed with an older man! Don't worry; there is honestly an explanation for that! Ward C2 is the neuro-rehabilitation ward of Salford Royal Hospital. It is your first step on your journey to re-joining the real world again after head trauma or neurosurgery, so there is an understandable level of confusion amongst the patients. There are two bays of about four beds next to each other, one with a red and one with a blue entrance. About 10 metres from that there is a toilet. That's it. It was when I was returning from the toilet one night, that I went and got in a bed in the same place but in the wrong bay, not realising that there was somebody asleep in the bed. I'm not too sure who was more shocked, him or me!

Skip forward six years to when I first moved to Manchester. It had, of course, improved, but I was still prone to getting lost! I went on a date to the cinema and went to get a couple of drinks mid-movie (I was trying to be cool - whatever that means!). On my way back I realised I had not only forgotten where I was sat but also what screen I was in (it was The Wolf of Wall Street, and it was showing on two screens at that time). When I found out the screen, I was faced with a dark room with a lot of people in. I instantly realised what I had done, and so I just sat in an empty seat at the front holding two drinks! You may not be surprised to learn that you don't have to buy a hat, there will be no wedding bells because we haven't spoken since!

In both cases, I was just walking to the bathroom and paying no attention to where I was and not realising that it was a problem until I needed to find my bed/seat again. The solution is simple isn't it: make a mental note of where you're sat; whether it be the colour of the entrance way or screen and the row that you are sat on. It's never that simple with a brain injury though, you have to remember to do the simple things, and with a memory problem, it isn't that easy!

There is a way around this, though. You need to turn these behaviours into habits, so they happen automatically. Habits are stored in a part of your long-term memory called your procedural memory; this is where motor skills are stored like riding a bike, talking and other things that you do without thinking and just know how to do. Whenever I find myself somewhere new, I try to be more observant of landmarks or things that stand out to locate where I was sitting. This way, I'm not just stood there panic-stricken and unconvincingly trying to look like I know what I'm doing, while at the same time desperately trying to search for whoever I am with!

Another thing I find really useful is Google Maps. I honestly don't know where I'd be without it! I don't think I would have managed to move to Manchester or go anywhere further than Scarborough on my own. It gives me the confidence to go somewhere new and explore; without it I wouldn't dare for fear of getting lost!

I have never been known for my navigation skills, but ever since I have had a head injury, my confidence in my ability to learn the layout and find my way around somewhere new is virtually non-existent. These tips and using Google Maps means I can alleviate some of these worries, and still explore new places!

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