Last week I explained the problems I have with my memory. I have come a long way from when I first came home from hospital into the strange new world I now inhabited. I thought I might share with you some of the coping strategies that help me live independently even if a little erratically.
I soon realised that if I couldn’t see something I would forget all about it. Take a pair of shoes for example. They could be in the cupboard where they were always kept, under the bed, or abandoned in the hall. The ones I would find were the ones in plain view in the hall. It would not occur to me to look for something out of sight.
After I had looked unsuccessfully for a while, a thought would run through my head that they hadn’t disappeared so they must be somewhere, and then the logic would kick in. Where would people keep shoes? Note the question wasn’t where would I keep shoes. To a great extent I still have the same problem.
So how do you get round this? Well, the answer is to keep things on view. My home, which has never been spectacularly tidy if I’m honest, is now far less so than it has ever been. I have open shelves where I store my stuff. When I have forgotten where I have put something, I just walk round my home perusing the shelves and worktops till I find it. It is far quicker – and cheaper – than getting to the point where I need to buy a replacement.
In the kitchen, matching black pots next to the kettle contain tea bags, coffee and sugar. A spoon lives on the little crock holder that proclaims tea is the witches’ brew. Mugs are hung on a mug tree right behind the kettle. The cupboard closest to the kettle contains the packets ready to top up the pots. I use a fair amount of spices when cooking. Every cupboard has a shelf attached to the inside of the door with jars lined up facing me as I open the cupboard. Kitchen utensils are stored next to the cooker. Washing up liquid and kitchen cleaner are stored on the drainer, right by the sink.
I have found that I find it easier to complete activities fully and efficiently if I establish a routine, a ritual if you like, that guides me from preparation to completion. I am able to learn repetitive actions far more quickly that following instructions that remain solely as words in my head. Let me give you an example.
A couple of years ago, I had the taps in the bathroom replaced with lever style taps rather than the standard turn type – I have arthritis in my hand and it was getting a bit difficult so it seemed a good idea. I never gave it a thought that I would struggle to remember how to turn these new taps on and off.
So for a long time I would stand in front of the taps, trying to twist, or lift the lever up, or trying to push them the wrong way. Yes, I know it sounds stupid. It sounds stupid to me as well. It also sounds stupid that I couldn’t remember if I had cleaned my teeth properly or not, but that was the case.
So now my ritual is this: walk into bathroom, take a moment to focus on what I want to achieve. What is the starting point? Take everything I need from the cupboard on the wall right next to the sink. Line up the toothpaste, toothbrush, mouth wash. The handwash is in view next to the sink. Focus on the taps, let the logic sink in – left tap lever turns left – turn on water. Toothpaste on brush, then count in series of eights for each section of teeth that need cleaning. Repeat routine till everything that came out of the cupboard is used, then put it all back in cupboard.
It doesn’t take much longer than it would anyone else, but without this little ritual, I wouldn’t be able to complete it. There are still days when I go to the bathroom to clean my teeth and actually end up using the toilet instead, easily distracted and completely forgetting what I had intended to do.
As I am writing this, I feel that it makes me seem like I am in need of a full time carer. That isn’t the case. On the whole I cope well enough, it just takes a little longer. It’s the constant finding out what works that allows me to cope with day-to-day life. I have found that if I can repeat an action enough times, it starts to push into the longer term memory which makes recall easier.
When I was in rehab, I attended classes in tai chi, good for cognitive function I was told. I could do the movements while the instructor was in class guiding us through the session. I wanted to continue on a daily basis at home. Could I remember the order of the moves? Of course not. Yet I was adamant that I would do tai chi on the beach when I was on holiday. (My instructor had beguiled me with tales of tai chi in warm blue waters in destinations that I can’t remember, other than he went there on a plane.)
I copied onto paper the names of the movements from the white board in the therapy room, luxurious evocative names such as painting a rainbow. I converted all the movements into pictures that would prompt me to the correct action. I used henna to draw these pictures on my forearm where I could easily glance at them. Yes, I can now almost remember all the moves in the right order, and yes, I did indeed do tai chi in the early morning freezing cold UK sea.
My life is different and sometimes frustrating yet I am enjoying it. I realised early on that I could spend time regretting what I had lost, or rather, embrace the life that I now have. One thing I am enjoying is the time I have to write, which I didn’t have before.
Next week, if I remember, I may take a look at the keeping of lists…
Portland Jones Disability Liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands