Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Stroke Survival~ Search Engines

But how can I find it?
Your brain is the vault of all knowledge. Everything you've experienced, seen, done, read, smelled, and touched is in there somewhere. Similar to computers, the brain has both Random Access Memory and long term data storage. So what can be done when the brain is damaged by a stroke or other mechanism of injury to the brain? How do you recall or search for data that you know is in there?

For the computer, there are all sorts of search engines from the low end like Google to the high end like Knowledge Vault or Knowledge Graph. Each has similar features but the high end is what you want for the ultimate data searches. All you need to do is plug into the internet.

Would it be so easy for the brain to do the same thing. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. People use many different things to jog their memory. In therapy, it's repetition to maybe wake up pathways in the brain to circumnavigate the damaged areas. Forgetful people leave Post-It notes for themselves or tie a string to their finger. That's all well and good, if it works for you, but that's the problem. What if it doesn't? What do you do then?

My youngest daughter is a TBI (traumatic brain injury) survivor. Similar to me with my stroke, we have no short term memory but have to store all things that we want to remember in long term storage. We also are aphasic which means we have issues with recalling data. Things like words get lost in the shuffle. We can substitute words (although they are not always right) and describe what word we are looking for in detail and let someone else tell us the word (guess, like the game 20 questions), or recall it later and often much later. You can imagine how frustrating this can be.

Unlike me, my daughter has found her search engine for recalling data. For her, it is verbal cues. I haven't yet. I'm still struggling at it, but then she has had twenty plus years to figure it out. Injury at 4 years old now she's 29- a quarter of a century ahead of me in dealing with the deficit. Me, I'm still an infant by comparison. My strokes were in 2012 and 2013. Which is why I compare myself to my grandchildren.

For me, it is multiple things which help me recall or search for data.
  • Create new habits
  • Post-It or note pads
  • Repetition
  • Verbal or visual cues
I'll do them individually or in combination to help me search. For example, finding my car
keys. Before my stroke I could place them anywhere and find them in an instant. Now, not so much. To complicate matters further, I have a multitude of house type keys on my keyring also (keys to-my father's house, church building, my #2 daughter's house, my front door and back door, and the out buildings on my property) as well as my car key. I could tell what went to where at a glance and now I draw a blank. I'm actually lost without them.

Visual cues
The first task was to color code them and split them up. Yes, it meant having keys made. My car key is pretty well a no brainer since I now only have one car. At one time I had three. It looks like the one above. Very recognizable. My front door key has a nifty red, white and blue graphic and it goes on the car key ring. My backdoor key is now green for my garden. My  #2 daughter likes Betty Boop, and my father was a Marine (visual cues). The key to the church is purple because He is the King. The other keys have other visual cues on them like flip flops for the pool house, an 8-ball for the playhouse (we have a pool table), and a sunflower for the gardening house. The keys for the out buildings now reside on a separate keyring. These visual cues have become my search engine to find the data I'm looking for.

I repeatedly put these keys in the same spot every time  I used them (repetition and creating a habit). This in turn stored the data into my long term memory. My keys are always put in the second little pocket of my purse. I pull them out of there to use them and put them back in there when I finish using them. This way I always know where they are. Now if someone else borrows them, like my grandson ;) and puts them where I'm not familiar with, he might get a phone call from his grandmother asking him what he did with her keys.

I've made a habit of leaving a 5x7 note pad by my computer for little notes to myself. These things are usually not important enough to store in long term memory, but essential for what I'm doing right now or within a couple of hours.

For things around the house, I use  Post-It notes. When I first came home from the hospital, three of my daughters and myself went through and reorganized my kitchen for easier access. Everything that was nonessential was placed in the bottom cabinets. When you can't squat down and get back up easily, it made sense. The same thing was done to the upper cabinets. Everything nonessential went on the upper shelf.

Now, switching around things in your kitchen that has been in place for decades is not a
task for the faint of heart. Remembering where you put all these things can be mind boggling and with the stroke my mind was boggled enough. Post-It notes were the answer. Eventually I would get used to where everything was and could remove them, but until I did, it just made sense. I will still call my daughters if I can't find something that is nonessential, like my springform pans for the cheesecakes I made for Christmas. I didn't think to look for them in the oven drawer and that's where they were.

Everyone has a different reminder system to jog their brain. This has been my search engine to my brain since my strokes. It works for me but it might not work for you. It's an individual process. My memory has improved greatly over the past year. You'll know I'm in trouble when you see smoke coming out of my ears from overworked gears turning or it could be just a brain fart.

So what's your search engine in your brain?

Nothing is impossible with determination.


  1. People do not usually know I have memory problems because I am so organized. Fooling people is OK with me.

  2. I have a couple of ways - creating lists on my iPhone Notes app is my favorite, and I create mnemonics - If I need to remember a hard-to-pronounce name, for example, I think of a "sounds like," as in charades. When I try to remember the town my sister-in-law is building a new house, I think "basket" (she once wove me a basket) and that retrieves "Ataskadera." Of course, it doesn't help me w the spelling, but I don't care about the spelling.
    BTW, I keep my keys on a hook by the door I usually go in/out. If I had 3 sets, I would organize the rings by use (my house, someone else's house, and some other category), then alphabetize the categories on the hooks left to right. I do a lot of alphabetical organization.

    And I try to put items in the place I think will be the first place I look.

  3. Post-it notes, lists, places that things go *every time* I used them works for me and I'm not working at a deficit.

    {{{Hugs}}} Jo, you still amaze me!

  4. I'm finally back to blogging and getting to visit all the friends I missed. I hope your holidays were good ones. I think your visual cues are excellent. I may need to borrow some of them.


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