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
  • After parking my car at a supermarket, I'd take a photo of where the car was located
  • 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)

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 many people (e.g. 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, despite their long-term memory often still being fantastic.  I make an analogy to far-sightedness, where many people 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 and would simply make matters worse.

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 five 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.