Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Stroke Survival ~ Rewiring the Brain with Games

Cognitive ability loss is often hard to determine in a hospital setting mainly because it is a away from your home environment. The patient isn't in their daily home routine. Sure you can count to ten or recite the alphabet, but getting back to your old, normal routine is that is the true measure of what was lost. The effects of the stroke come home to roost and are glaringly obvious and tragic.

Me for example when I arrived home, I sat in front of my computer. I had a month's worth of story ideas stockpiled in my head. I'm a writer and that's what I do. After switching everything around so that it was left hand accessible, I opened up my MS Word program to type. The first challenge I faced was how to type one handed. I typed 120 WPM with two hands and capitalizing letters, or numbers, or symbols was a no brainer before. Now I had to figure out how to do it all with one hand. There are still somethings I haven't figured out how to do even with a smaller, compact keyboard. It's almost a feat of magic holding two keys down by pressing a third.

What I see or pretty close. IT IS GETTING BETTER!
I started to type and everything got jumbled in my brain. Letters, spelling, and not to mention grammar was gone. I jokingly call it my Dyslexic/ADD (letters are backwards and twisted in order), but that's the way it seems when I try to put thoughts from my brain to the keyboard. Luckily Windows 7 has a spell checker for everything otherwise my posts in here would be jibberish. One of these days I'll show you a uncorrected posts even now and May will be two year since my first stroke.

In one of my outpatient rehab sessions I found out why. In reciting my alphabet verbally, I lost letters. What I thought was so easy and a no brainer when asked to do it was gappy like I was in grade school first learning my alphabet instead of using it for over fifty years. Numbers had the same difficulty once I was past ten and got into double digits. Forget simple math like addition and subtraction.

But yet I can read for the most part. It's very tiring to do and mentally taxing. That's because of my skim and context reading ability. I'm thankful every day that I didn't lose that. But editing written text requires being able to read each and every word and analyze the sentence structure. That, at this point, is beyond me in critiquing and editing. That's the baby step I'm working on by blogging.

I have talked at length ( here, here, and here)of how I use computer games to rebuild my cognitive gaps. I'll play word games and number games trying to rewire my brain back to normal. It has been a challenge, but I persist. Now imagine being an author with these kind of issues.

Don't take me wrong. Every stroke survivor has their own issues in resolving their past with their present situation. I'm just an author. It was my livelihood and will be again. I just have to work harder to achieve it. Just like we all do. We each have our own goals fraught with reality of impairments.

For me, regressing backwards one morning in my game playing ability gave me the lightning bolt that I'd had another stroke. Games that had become easy and repetitious to the point of dull were hard again. It was more than stress and my body's reaction to it. It wasn't a momentary thing but over days and weeks. Granted, I've got some serious stress factors going on now, but when I pushed them aside and analyzed the results, there was little doubt even without a MRI. A follow-up MRI proved it. A small new dead area close to the previous one. Just enough to set me back some but incurring only minor new damage.

The thing about rewiring the brain is that it has to be enjoyable to you even if it's a workout. We are and always have been a game playing family from a game playing family. Bingo was how I reinforced number recognition in my TBI daughter so it was natural for me to do the same for myself. While I may never play twelve cards at once online and thirty in real life again, I use it to rewire my brain to recognize numbers,  simple addition, and the concept of higher and lower. Addition, huh? In POGO one one of the types of bingo players will post how many they needed for bingo in chat. Three cards-three numbers. So I took to adding my three numbers together and comparing it to other players. There are all sorts of "tricks" you can do with games if you have an imagination.

Now for how far I've come playing online games daily. I can play Tri-peaks Solitare, that's numbers forwards and backwards without a cheat sheet. If you haven't read my previous post on this, my cheat sheet was a slip of paper that I put over my function keys that was numbered forwards and backwards A-K or 1-13.

I've progressed from Bingo Luau (three cards with medium speed of spoken numbers and the numbers light up when I pass them) to Fortune Bingo (three cards, medium speed spoken numbers, and the numbers don't light up when I pass them, plus no pattern help is given other than the diagram at the top of the screen) just like regular Bingo  cards. Yes, I'm still making mistakes with this new game. Numbers get reversed in my head as I'm searching for them and I'm still having to repeat the double digit numbers in my head or verbally while I search to keep them straight like 1-2 for twelve.

I also no longer look for the same number throughout the card. Somewhere in my mind I knew the number called would only appear once, but in playing I would search in multiple rows and even the same rows for the number repeating itself. Insanity was calmed in my method of searching for the number by only looking in the assigned row and realizing that they'd only appear once. Now I can place my cursor at the bottom of a row and read the whole row. This was a major breakthrough.

The point is the games have measurable progress. I can see myself making positive progress. As far as my writing goes... It's not going anywhere. I don't have the uninterrupted time I need to focus on getting my writing ability back. AND, the key to getting any cognitive skill back is repetition and doing it.

It would take all my concentration to write sentences in a cohesive manner. Right now, there are too many interruptions and an ear constantly listening for my husband. It's too distracting to focus with all of this going on. I have to respond at a moments notice and when I come back to my screen the thought is gone. By the time it comes back there is another thing which has me leaving the screen again. Too frustrating and maddening to even attempt writing other than my blog.

I have a humongously growing list of people waiting to read this book and that should spur me on to write, but it's too hard to do right now. I must keep calm and unflustered to handle my daily growing list of have-to-dos. Although part of my mind balks at the lack of forward progress of the book and I chastise myself for laziness, I also realize I'm a damaged human being that her wants won't kill her. All my efforts are focused on getting through this day and what it brings instead of want-to-dos. This is as it should be.

So as for my cognitive skills recovery, I'll stick to game playing. It's a measurable step forward in recovery each and every time I play. I'll continue to set mini goals for each game and try to achieve them. No effort is wasted. When my brain tires, I stop and do something else because it is mentally taxing to rewire the brain. That's the thing about recovery after a stroke, you start off with a clean slate and everything you do is a goal and achievement. Whether it is making a sandwich, doing rehab exercises, or playing games over and over again. I'm trying to get back to taking things for granted instead of looking for goals and achievement beyond the normal. Right now I'm striving for the new Abby Normal in my life. As should we all.

Nothing is impossible with determination.


  1. I still say you are amazing, Jo! {{{hugs}}} for today. ;-)

  2. I think that I'm back cognitively, except for 1 thing: when I'm counting and get to the next decade, I repeat the one I'm on and say, "10." For example: twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten. Is a writer, I am pleased I didn't lose any language skills (that I can detect). You'll get them all back. Maybe not 120 wpm.

  3. Thank you Zan Marie.

    Barb, I sure hope so. The loss of my language skills have really hurt me as a writer. 120 WPM is a long shot unless I get my right hand functioning again.

  4. If you over exert yourself you'll end up going backwards. The things you've been able to accomplish are amazing. Think of how far you've come since the stroke. And you just keep trying. You'll get there.


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