Posted on August 9, 2011 · Posted in TBI Voices
This entry is part 9 of 22 in the series DJ

Short-Term Memory: DJ Part Nine

DJ could not be a waiter anymore partly due to his short-term memory problems.  Not only would he have trouble remembering orders, the attentional demands, as the pace and the noise got greater during rush periods, would push all of his cognitive functioning to its breaking point.

DJ has had many accidents in the kitchen since his brain injury.

Short-Term Memory Problems with Every Day Life

DJ considers his short-term memory problems to be one of his biggest ongoing deficits.  Short-term memory problems do not have a single cause. Many times the memory centers are working to some degree, with the real problem stemming from the inability to focus on the information that should be stored, at the time the information is streaming by.

I asked DJ what seems to contribute to his short-term memory problems:

Distraction is right up there with the top two or three.

Give me some examples of your short-term memory problems.

The stove, oh man, the stove. I got a picture of garlic bread that I had at my first brain injury rehab.  I’ve got it at home, but I used to make a nice meal and I wanted to cook all my own meals.  Before I went to Communicare I was actually in an apartment.  It was fully furnished, Center for Comprehensive Services has them, Communicare does not, so I went back into assisted living, but even, it doesn’t matter.  In both places I would put a nice meal, pork chops, I got my vegetables, I got my salad or whatever, and then I would take some garlic bread, put it in the broiler and then go sit down and start to eat.  Bad idea.

What happened?

Poof, garlic bread, smoke, fire department.  So I bought a toaster oven and it’s on, it’s just constantly, the phone for memory, the one pops up, the burners on the stove.  You mentioned Facebook. I know you want to get back to that, but I’ve just got to say this while I’m remembering it.  The other day I was boiling potatoes, I was making Shepherd’s pie and all of the sudden I smelled something.  All I did was go in and answer a couple of quick instant messages or something on Facebook and my stove is around the corner from my computer nitch at the condo, and I started to smell something.  I knew immediately.  I ran and got a cup of water and I had to get water back in there because all the water boiled down.  Me and the stove have been – poof.

Let’s focus on a particular part of that.  Do you have difficulty having a sense of time because of your short-term memory problems?  If you’re going to cook something and do something else, you should sort of have a little alarm clock going in your head that regardless of how distracted you get, you know that that’s happening.  Do you have a hard time focusing in on time when you’re doing anything else?

I black out.  I don’t want to say black out like a drinking black out, but it’s a dementia blackout.  I mean I can literally be on that computer and smell the smoke, of course then I’m going to remember I got food on the stove or in the broiler.

But you completely lose track of time?

I don’t even remember when I put it on there and then I don’t, you know, my timer is not working at that point.  I’ve fallen asleep.  Now I use the toaster oven for the garlic bread, but I’ve, I have breakfast sausages and I’ll do 8 or 10, 12 links at a time and then put them in a storage container in the fridge and I like breakfast sandwiches and stuff with eggs and sausage, so I have awakened several times where there was sausages in the toaster oven, eight or ten and I don’t even remember when I put them in there.

Helpful Tools and Solution to Short-Term Memory Problems

You set alarms on your phone to help with your short-term memory problems?

Not on my phone, but there was a caregiver at Communicare that regularly, I used to do a daily report on my computer because these monthly reports that they were preparing were just so, you know, wraparound services and, you know, it just wasn’t telling the whole story so I just did a daily report and I still have them saved.  There are over, over 800 straight days where I wrote something a few times a day.

I had sent one to one of the caregivers at Communicare and she lived right around the corner from me.  When I eventually moved out, she brought me this little teapot, twisty thing.  Sodas were another thing, like you take a box of sodas, you get them from the store and they’re warm, take a box of sodas or one or two and you place them in the freezer.

Brain injured, forget it, ka-blewy, they blow up and they create quite a mess.  So she gave me this little timer and I do use that for certain things now where I’ll take it with me and I know if that goes off, I got to get back to the kitchen. It looks like a little teapot, and it literally just twists, I bet it’s not more than a dollar, but man I’ll tell you what, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars worth of food.

By Attorney Gordon Johnson


Next in Part Ten –  Adapting To Short-Term Memory Problems Post Severe Brain Injury

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447