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Brain Injuries

The power of lists in brain injury recovery

The power of lists in brain injury recovery

I will be the first to admit that I am not the tidiest person in the world. However, I feel most calm and prefer to be in tidy and ordered surroundings. Then why do I not create these surroundings for myself? I really wish I knew that but if it makes you feel better, everyone I know that has a brain injury feels the same way and is poor at keeping things tidy so if this also applies to you then you are definitely not alone!

If you have any type of acquired brain injury (a brain injury that has been caused since birth), then your memory will probably be affected and you are going to benefit from being organised. If you are somebody who has used lists and was organised before your injury then congratulations because this will be easier. If, however, you are like me and would struggle to organise a drink in a brewery (you know what I was trying to say!), then this is going to be more of a challenge but know that getting organised will make your life so much easier.

Our injured brains still work and can work well, they will just be able to handle much less than they could preinjury (a good analogy is that if you could once carry 5 bags of shopping, you can now only carry one). I’ve mentioned before how I was once told that I could do anything I could before - whilst in my opinion that is not true, don’t ever lose hope because you can still do a lot more than you may think, you just have to make the circumstances right!

Never overwhelm your brain with too much stimulation, the more tired you are, the worse your brain will perform so it makes sense that you will be freshest earlier in the day. Try doing anything that involves thinking, in a morning in a quiet and well-lit room (natural light is best), allowing yourself to focus on the task in hand and minimising/eliminating things that will distract you.

The theory is that although you may forget, something written down on paper or a smartphone will not. The problem that I have to overcome is to remember to write it down - this is something that you are just going to have to force yourself to do until it becomes a habit (if you know of a better way please feel free to tell me about it!).

I first learned about the need for organisation and the benefits of decluttering your life from both Dr Mary Todd at the Brain And Spinal Injury Center (BASIC) and my Occupational Therapist Julie Meighan.

Listen to our Podcast, Brain Injury Bites: An interview with Julie Meighan:  occupational therap

A great ally of the brain injured is the list! My concentration is awful and I’m pretty sure that yours is too! I am so good at starting jobs but I rarely finish them. I start doing something and often forget about it and start something else. A way to get things done is to write them down in a to do list, do things one by one and DO NOT start one task until the previous one has been ticked off, which becomes pretty satisfying and addictive!

Make your tasks realistic i.e. do not start something and expect to be working on it for 12 hours because that won’t happen. Plan to do things that will take an hour maximum, then split the hour in 2 having 25 minutes working time with a 5 minute rest. To prevent yourself getting distracted during that half hour try using the The pomodoro technique explained in Mary Todd’s Memory Tips.

One of my memory tips is to put things that you have to remember somewhere that you cannot miss them. This used to be stuck on the door at my parent’s house to remind me that every time I left the house I needed my phone, my keys and my wallet. Eventually this was replaced with the number 3, I would know what the 3 things were that it was referring to. In my head it made me look a bit more independent.

I did get to a point where I didn’t need it as much, but it was still a comfort that it was there every time I left the house. Another thing I do is to hang something on the door handle or leave my things in a place that I will have to move them to leave the house so that I cannot forget them.

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When planning your week on a Sunday (or whenever you choose to do so), schedule in an hour for doing something from your to do list. Going forward, you should always have your to do list on you so that whenever you think of something you can add it to the list.

I use an app for this called Paperless on iPhone. It is so useful that I have told a couple of nonbrain injured (or neurotypical as Dr Mary Todd used to say) friends about it and they now use it too.

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I don’t ever want anyone to read things that I write and think that I follow everything that I say because that is really not the case. I have done them in the past and I know from experience that they work for me. Why don’t I use them all the time then?... the same reason that I don’t live in an immaculately tidy house! Nobody is perfect, least of all those with a brain injury! Every person is different, and every head injury is different, so if you can follow everything then great but if you can follow one or two then that is great as well, we’ll be better than we were yesterday!

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