As the title of my book “Broken Brain Better Life” suggests, I had a brain injury. Although I recovered sufficiently that I could resume my life, there were still many issues. One such issue was a broken memory. I talked a little about how I coped with this issue at work in a different article. Here, I want to discuss how I managed my home life with a broken memory.
My issues were not isolated to just remembering yesterday, but also were related to issues with what is called the executive functions. These are the things necessary for planning, executing tasks, multi-tasking, and paying attention.
My executive processing center was damaged along with my memory. This would result in things like missing a step in a sequence. An example of this is the simple task of washing my hands. Steps: turn on the water, get soap, wash hands, rinse hands, turn off the water, dry hands. I could return from having been out for the day and find the water running in the bathroom because I missed that step in the execution of the task of washing my hands.
I could come into the kitchen in the morning to find the stove on from the night before. Or, I could return to the kitchen after making coffee only to find the coffee running down the cabinet because I missed the step to put the pot in the coffee maker. I actually had returned one time from being at my Mom’s for the weekend to find that I had left the iron on the entire weekend. That could have burned down my house! These were serious matters for which I needed to find solutions, for my safety and for my sanity.
Thank goodness for Post-It Notes. I used them everywhere! My entire house was colorful and filled with notes everywhere.
There was a post-it on the microwave above the stove – “turn off stove.” There was a post-it taped to the coffee maker – “use the pot.” There was a post-it on all bathroom mirrors – “turn off water.” There was a post-it note on my bathroom mirror in my bedroom to double-check everything before I went to sleep at night; the stove, the doors locked, the water off, the garage door closed.
There was a post-it note on the door leading to the garage to double-check everything before I left the house; curling iron off, doors locked, water off, stove off, coffee unplugged, clothes iron off.
Post-it notes saved me! Maybe they will help you too.
I also had a daily checklist of things to do for the day so I wouldn’t forget anything. As things occurred to me that I needed to do, I would add them to the list because I could not trust my memory.
I also practiced something called mindfulness. This is where you make a mental note, a conscious acknowledgement of something. In my case, I actually would say it out loud. When I turned off the stove, I would literally say out loud “stove is off.” By saying it, it imprints in our brains more solidly and we have a better chance of remembering it.
In addition, and probably one of the most important memory aids I employed was the use of the stove timer. When cooking, especially something on the stove that required occasional stirring or monitoring, I would forget that I was cooking and everything would end up burned, smoking, and causing the smoke alarm to sound. This was pretty much a daily occurrence for me. If I walked away from the stove for even a minute, to use the bathroom, or to run upstairs to get something off my desk, I would instantly forget that I was cooking. I would then be distracted while upstairs and only when I smelled smoke or heard the smoke detector would I remember that I was, in fact, cooking. This is one of the issues that still remains for me today, eleven years after the injury. I believe it is all related to the damage to the executive processing center in my brain. My work-around for this is simple. Whenever I am cooking, I set the stove timer for five minutes. If I am still in kitchen, then I hit reset for another five minutes, or maybe ten minutes depending on what I’m cooking. If I have stepped away from the kitchen, the buzzer reminds me that I am cooking and calls me back in there. This works for me. Once I figured out this little trick, I stopped burning things on the stove. I call it the five-minute buzzer. Also, sometimes when I’m cooking and walk away literally for just a minute, rather than the timer, I may just repeat out loud to myself, “cooking, cooking, cooking” the whole time I’m away so that I remember to return to the kitchen.
These are some of the things that have worked for me. I wish you success in creating your own memory aids and procedures to keep you organized and safe in your home while living with your new version of your brain. You are still good. Your life is still good. It just takes a little bit of work to find your right solutions. Don’t give up!