Thinking Problems

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Following a concussion, you may have noticed difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory. You may also find that it takes longer to collect your thoughts to express yourself or to solve problems. These are some of the common thinking problems following a concussion, and typically they go away with time, but that does not make them any less annoying while you have them.

While you are recovering, here are some practical strategies that you can use to help with thinking difficulties:

Attention/Concentration

  • Work at only one task at a time. This helps to keep your focus and you are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
  • Reduce distractions when you are concentrating. For example, turn off the television when you are trying to read or ask the children not to interrupt while you are making dinner.
  • Give yourself more time to complete tasks. Work for short periods of time and take breaks. This helps reduce stress that can impact your ability to concentrate. 
  • Choose a time when your energy level is at its best especially for important tasks that require your full attention. 
  • Avoid or limit your contact with noisy or busy places. This will help you focus and it will reduce feelings of confusion.
  • Maintain good eye contact to stay focused during conversations. Also, repeat back what was said or ask the person to repeat the information if you missed it.
  • Read aloud and read only for short, manageable periods of time if reading is difficult.

Memory

  • Record important information. Use your smartphone, notebook, a calendar, or an organizer and keep it with you to use throughout every day. Make this a habit!
  • Keep important items in the same place in your home, such as your car keys, cell phone, umbrella, message pad etc. to avoid losing track of them.  
  • Use reminders such as:
    • Lists for shopping.
    • Sticky notes around the house, for example at the door to remind you to check the locks or the stove before you leave.
    • The answering machine or computer e-mail to leave yourself messages.
    • Programmable timers. Smart phones and alarm reminders can be programmed to remind you of your appointments, when to take medication, people to call etc.
  • Use external cues or prompts to draw you back to a task. For example use an egg timer or the microwave timer when cooking or doing laundry.
  • Automatic shut off. Use appliances that have an automatic shut-off such as a kettle or iron.

Problem Solving/Organization

  • Avoid situations where you are under pressure to respond or think quickly.
  • Make sure you understand the problem by asking questions.
  • Do not make decisions quickly. Take the time to review all possible angles of a situation, and discuss the issue with someone you trust before deciding, especially if it is an important decision.
  • Count to ten before you act on anything. Consider whether you are being safe, and whether you are using good judgement.
  • Pre-plan your activities. Pre-planning helps you to be prepared to handle daily situations. For example,
    • If you have a medical appointment, take a list of your concerns with you.
    • If you are driving somewhere unfamiliar, take the address and a contact telephone number with you. Review the directions before you leave.
  • Plan out each day, scheduling in your appointments and activities. Review your schedule each night and every morning to help keep you on track.
  • Break the task down into manageable steps prior to starting the task.

Remember that your thinking ability is affected by other symptoms such as fatigue, poor sleep, headaches, dizziness, low mood and stress. It is critical that you get good, restorative sleep each night and pace all of your activities to allow for rest periods throughout your day. As these symptoms settle down, you will usually see your thinking problems settle down as well.

Be patient and have realistic expectations of yourself during your recovery. It takes time and practice to use these techniques, but once you have formed the habit they will be very helpful in managing your thinking difficulties during your recovery.

Resources

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