Memory Testing

Short-Term Memory

I was advised that self testing for short-term memory was counter-productive, contradicting my own instincts and behavioural patterns.  Pre-TBI I'd always liked to test myself (on any subject matter), to give me the confidence that whatever I was attempting to absorb had properly sank in.  Post-TBI, my self-tests nearly always ended in failure, which could lead to frustration.

I decided to simply accept that my short-term memory had been massively impaired by my TBI.  I took onboard the advice to use coping strategies, three examples are bulleted below.  I recognised that my memory could not be trained or repaired - for my recovery outcome this acceptance was priceless.

  • When I left my home to visit anywhere, I would take a photo of my key in the front door lock, this reduced anxiety of whether I had locked it
  • For anything that I had planned to do for the day, however trivial or seemingly unforgettable, I made a note on a phone app (EverNote)
  • After parking my car at a supermarket (I regained my driving licence sixteen months after my TBI) I'd take a photo of where the car was located

I very rarely needed to consult my phone to check the front door was locked, or to find my car, simply having the knowledge that I could do so if needed appeared to make my memory kick into gear and recall the necessary information.

I've observed elderly folk draw false inference that their impaired short-term memory is somehow indicative of their cognitive ability deteriorating.  People can become extremely frustrated with themselves over this, despite their long-term memory often still being fantastic.

I make a long-term / short-term memory analogy to far-sightedness / short-sightedness.  People with good long distance sight accept that they:

  • Can read a billboard over the road (20m away) perfectly clearly
  • Can't read a book / restaurant menu just 15cm away

I learned that short-term and long-term memory are processed in different parts of the brain and it's useful to accept that one part can deteriorate at a different rate than another, just like with the eyesight analogy.  Acceptance of short-term memory limitations has been a significant contributing factor to my recovery, as getting frustrated was entirely counter-productive.

General Self-Testing

Unwittingly, I still took lots of enjoyment from self-testing during recovery - just not for anything related to short-term memory.

  • Jigsaws: I'd make notes of how many pieces I was putting together in a ten minute period.  I'd typically think I'd only placed about six or seven pieces, whereas my scribbled note may indicate I'd actually done thirty.
  • Walking Strides: I used to walk a familiar hilly path home after visiting my mother.  I'd measure the number of strides I'd taken, say, five hundred.  With each subsequent walk I would lengthen my stride to get the number down.
  • Holiday Notes: I made notes of all the holidays I had been on in my life, and wrote up bulleted lists of the things I recalled from each one.