Brain Injury Difficulty Problem Solving and Planning

Brain Injury Difficulty Problem Solving : Red and white sign with blue sky behind

Most of us at some time have trouble trying to work out how to solve a problem. Or maybe we can’t seem to make a decision, or we make a decision and then think “Why did I ever do that”.

Brain injury, particularly when it involves the frontal lobe, such as after  trauma, stroke, dementia, tumour,  commonly results in similar difficulty with working through a problem, planning, organizing and putting steps in the right order. After brain injury it is different – it might not go away.

Today a look at what happens when planning, organization and putting things in the right order are not happening as they should. Next week some strategies that might be helpful to work around planning and organization issues after brain injury.



What is planning?

““Planning” is the ability to choose how to do a task, and to list all the steps of the task. Planning also requires the person to decide what they will need to do the task and estimate how long it will take them to complete it. For example, if a person wants to cook a meal they must decide what they will cook, what ingredients they will need, where they can get the ingredients, what time to start cooking, and how much to cook.”

From “Initiation, Planning, Organization, and Brain Injury” by Brainline

What is organization?

““Organization” … includes changing the order of the steps, as needed, so the task can be completed. … the ability to create logical places to store items and information so that you can find them later.”

From “Initiation, Planning, Organization, and Brain Injury” by Brainline

What is sequencing?

Putting multiple steps or tasks in the right order to complete an action, make a plan or solve a problem.

Putting It All Together

The ability to plan and organise, including putting steps in the right order (sequencing), is complex. We learn (with varying degrees of success)  how to work out our problems, how  to plan the steps needed, organise all aspects of our life, manage our time, priroritise needs and tasks, make choices, and work out what we and others need to do.

Amazing when you think of it like that really – that is a lot going on. Here are just some of the things we need to be able to:

  • Recognise you have a problem, or that one is likely to occur
  • Find a range of ways to solve problems and figure out the best path
  • Working out a plan to complete a task or activity e.g. having the right equipment to complete a task.
  • Be able to organise thoughts and explain things to others
  • Put information and steps into the right order for planning and problem solving
  • Know how to make a plan
  • Working out the steps (in order) needed to action the plan
  • Be able to prioritise actions, needs and tasks
  • Know what is needed and get the right tools, information and steps to carry out a task
  • Keep each step in mind long enough to complete it
  • Figuring out what the end result of actions might be ahead of time
  • Knowing how and when to modify your behaviour and actions to complete plan
  • Do all this not only for ourselves but others as well

After brain injury any part of these processes can be affected.


Brain Injury Difficulty Problem Solving, Planning, Organisation and Sequencing

Imagine interruption to any of the functions above – the potential changes are many. Difficulties might include:

Have trouble working out why something has gone wrong

No longer able to see a possible problem coming along

Make mistakes over and over again while not being able to figure out what is causing the mistake

Continuing to try and solve a problem in the same way even if this is not working

Leaping to a decision or solution without considering all the facts.

Difficulty making changes to behaviour and responding in the right way.  Part of working out how to solve a problem, and how to make good decisions helps us to work out what changes we need to make to our behaviour to make sure we respond appropriately.

Not knowing right from wrong

Trouble changing your approach when unsuccessful at a task

Not being able to work out the order of steps needed to complete a task or missing out steps – even crucial steps

Not able to take on suggestions for alternative solutions

Not able to come up with new ideas and use different strategies to solve problems.

Difficulty working through information to make a choice or decision

Not being able to weigh up the pros and cons of each choice or alternative.

Difficulty reasoning or being able to understand different points of view.

Or a combination of any of these difficulties.


Cognitive Combination

To make it more complicated cognitive impairment in one area (such as difficulty with problem solving) will affect, and be affected by other functions.

Examples include:

Memory loss might affect problem solving ability because of a difficulty remembering how a similar problem has been resolved in the past.

Impulsivity might affect decision-making because decisions are made quickly without thinking them through.

Being easily distracted, or not being able to concentrate might make planning and organization more difficult because you are not able to spend the time needed focusing on what is needed.


Phew have you got all this – no wonder so many people don’t understand! It is complicated.


A Bit More Information

The following articles provide more information if you would like more:

” Executive Dysfunction After Brain Injury”

“Problems Getting Organised”

“Initiation, Planning, Organization, and Brain Injury”


And Finally

Next week more on strategies that might be helpful when managing poor planning, organisation and sequencing difficulties.

This article is a revision of a previous 2014 article “Decision-making and Problem Solving After Brain Injury”



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