Whether it’s a short recipe, instructions to play a kid’s game or basic directions to hook up a gadget, just a simple set of instructions can seem like a foreign language to a brain injury survivor. Following instructions involves cognitive skills such as attention, memory and problem solving. These skills are often negatively impacted during brain injury, such as swelling of the brain in encephalitis or bleeding in the brain in stroke.
Even with compromised multi-tasking and working memory, there are strategies to get back in the kitchen or playing new games with your kiddo. Like learning a foreign language, challenging the brain can help find new paths to help memory, communication and advanced processing. Here are some tips for making instructions less of a communication barrier:
1. Chop steps down into manageable bites – If following a recipe is difficult, start with a 5-step Hamburger Helper-type meal before tackling a main dish with multiple sides. Long recipes can be taxing, making the return to the kitchen less appealing because of the perceived extreme effort. Additionally, many of us endure olfactory changes, which makes the finished product less appetizing from loss of taste/smell. Make cooking fun (either again or for the first time) by building confidence with smaller dishes. Use minimal steps. Change up the game to determine how taste may have been affected. Funny how blue cheese and arugula might have been among my least favorite foods before encephalitis …
2. Reveal one step at a time in the directions – The year after my illness, I was thrilled on the arrival of a card game I ordered for my son. Until we opened that small box with multiple pages of instructions. I recall how defeated I felt … reading the directions over and over, yet having no remote concept of how to play. Since then, I’ve learned to cover up all the other steps when trying to comprehend something complex. Just digest one step at a time. Try it sequentially for best results. (it’s ok to laugh, even in brain injury …) Continue reading