Testing Yourself

Short-Term Memory

I was advised that self-testing for short-term memory was counter-productive, contradicting my own instincts and behavioural patterns which had always been to test myself to give me the confidence that whatever I attempting to absorb had properly sank in.  For instance, at lunch-time I may have tried to remember what I'd had for breakfast or what I had planned to do for the day - these self-tests nearly always ended in failure which would sometimes lead to frustration.

In short time, I accepted that my short-term memory had been massively impaired by my RTC.  I took onboard the advice to use coping strategies, as my memory could not be trained or repaired - for my recovery outcome this advice 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 up
  • 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 an app on my phone (EverNote)

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

I've observed many people (e.g. elderly folk) draw a 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 (10m 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 issue.  Acceptance of short-term memory limitations has been a huge contributing factor to my recovery, as getting frustrated is 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 6 or 7 pieces, whereas my scribbled note may indicate I'd actually done 30.

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, 500.  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.