Following Instructions: Like a Foreign Language Post Brain Injury

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 …)images

3. Put the instructions in words you understand — Sometimes instructions are filled with jargon, especially new gadgets for our personal devices. See if you benefit from translating or rewriting the instructions into words that make sense to you. Or create a “cheat sheet” to reference for difficult words. These steps can prevent getting tripped up on a manufacturer’s language for products vs. a successful connection setup between devices or accounts.

4. Ask for help for reassurance  — Concentration skills post brain injury are challenging. When “we’re on,” our confidence boosts and spirits soar. When outcomes are important, a second set of eyes might help ensure all the steps have been followed. Putting together a complex meal is great until you find out you never started the oven. Or that you’re getting beat every time because an essential rule to the card game is missing … Friends and family are typically eager to help improve on already great ideas. Take them up on it … you’d be surprised.

In closing, following instructions can be daunting based on where you are in the recovery phase. Finding ways to reduce the stress or frustration of following instructions may free up your thinking to enjoy the task at hand or even to eventually try projects or games of increasing difficulty.

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Copyright 2015 Majamo Publishing, LLC.

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