Difficulties with organizing, starting things (initiating), putting things in the right order (sequencing), making plans and sorting out priorities are common cognitive outcomes of brain injury, particularly when the frontal lobe is damaged.
I recently received a letter asking about strategies for organisation planning and problem solving. How can you organize your own life, and that of your family, when you have trouble with planning and organizing after brain injury. This question inspired this series of articles.
Last week Brain Injury Difficulty Problem-Solving and Planning looked at what can happen after brain injury. Today tips and strategies for organisation planning and problem solving that might be useful after brain injury.
These functions are what you might see termed as “Executive functions”. (brief explanation near the end in “What Does Cognitive Mean”) All this sounds sort of business talk and that is kind of what executive functions are really – the business end of the brain, figuring things out, making things happen.
We have considered the brain as the boss of a business (our lives). Maybe we could take a business approach to developing strategies for these executive functions. Now someone is probably going to tell me this is not a new thought someone else already had it – I can live with that. I’m excited by it anyway.
Tips, Suggestions and Strategies
To begin looking at strategies for organisation planning and problem solving – start with a set of principles to base strategies on. You might find PECKS useful as a set of strengths-based principles.
One of these principles important here is the K.I.S.S principle. It has been around for a while – Keep It Simple (Stupid) not so keen on the “Stupid” so I have just dropped it! Whatever processes and strategies are used they should be:
- as simple as possible,
- focus on strengths and what a person is good at
- be achievable,
- be easy to use for the kinds of planning, organising and problems faced,
- suit the person and their lifestyle,
- reduce stress and pressure on memory
Getting Stuff Done
An earlier article about Taskbusting describes some strategies for getting stuff done.
It is important to use a method that is:
- Whatever suits the person and helps get things done: charts, maps, instructions, phone apps, timers, pictures.
- Whatever works for daily life including tasks such as – how to use appliances and technology, how to get to places, doing the shopping and preparing meals.
Creating a Strong Structure That Suits
Just like a business that builds a structure to keep it on track – structure can help people manage difficulties with planning, organising and solving problems.
Structure can have the added bonus of reducing stress and drain on memory.
Think about structure in all aspects of life. Including:
- A regular structure for each day – recorded a form that suits.
- A structure for maintaining healthy habits – yes it can help – regular times for exercise, regular go to sleep and wake up times, meals at similar times.
- Making things easier – making sure to follow the same steps each time.
- Making plans, solving problems, getting organised.
A Way to Solve Problems
Businesses have ‘risk management plans’.
For people who have trouble solving problems this ‘risk management’ kind of approach can also be useful.
While it sounds fancy, it is about having a plan that says these might be possible problems – before they happen. And this is how they might be solved.
Decide on the most important problem right now.
Use as much help as necessary to make it successful – a planning tool or app to be a guide, a person, a checklist to work through.
Role playing problem solving and decision-making might be helpful. It may help to role play all sides to work out the best solutions.
More about Problem solving strategies in coming weeks.
A Plan for Planning
Much is written about business planning. What if people with difficulties planning and organizing also had a plan – people plans instead of business plans maybe. A ‘people plan’ like the business plan would have:
A plan to make a plan – that sounds confusing – it means have a way to make a plan to use each time planning is needed. It would have the steps to go through to make a plan, including what might go wrong and how to deal with that.
Making the plan – sounds a bit obvious but to get things done, to solve problems, to reach goals – the plan needs to be made each time. Using the ‘plan to make a plan’ in the point above to make sure all steps are followed.
Recording the plan – in the way that worked best for the person – written plan, recorded on phone or computer, a planning phone app, planning software.
More information on how to plan in ‘Building Brilliant Strategies For Brain Injury’
More on Planning in coming weeks.
Whatever supports memory might also help with planning and organisation.
Regular habits – such as checking diary or daily schedule each morning, putting keys, clothes, household stuff in the same place all the time.
Use the tools and strategies that suit age, stage, lifestyle:
- an older person may prefer to write things down in a journal or diary,
- a technology minded person may prefer to use tailored software,
- some people may prefer to use their smart phone.
A recent series on Memory might help. You can find out more about Memory Strategies here:
Live a Healthy lifestyle
Easy to say – Oh so much harder to do! Maintaining the best possible health and well-being helps the brain be at its best. Brain health and nutrition can be helped by:
- healthy food,
- limiting, hopefully eliminating smoking, drugs and alcohol,
- regular exercise,
- adequate regular sleep if possible.
The following are tips for what you might do as a supporter to support strategies for organisation planning and problem solving:
Be very organised yourself – this helps limit stress for the person you are assisting and can help demonstrate good ways to manage.
Be Consistent – provide what is agreed, maintain the structure.
Assist where needed to support the agreed structure. This might include writing up weekly plans, mapping how to do tasks and use technology, planning and reminding.
Give positive feedback when problem solving and organizing skills are used effectively. Gently refocus when they are not.
Keep a track of: what works well, what is difficult, any ideas to make it easier, what works in what circumstances.
Practice and maybe role play – how to reason, how to identify problems, and work through solutions (using the problem solving approach ageed).
Give consistent prompts and reminders of what needs to be considered to make decisions and solve problems. Remember this might need to be done for months, years, always.
Support and encourage the person to ask for help when needed.
Explain mistakes clearly and simply, without judgement or anger. Emphasise clearly the link between cause and outcome.
Increased support may be needed to manage complex tasks or situations, for example increased assistance of a support worker or volunteer.
Strategies for organisation planning and problem solving work best when everyone involved takes part – the person living with brain injury, family and friends, workers and other supporters.
Ongoing repetition, practice and consistency will more likely be needed to enable skills to be learned.
This article Strategies for Organisation Planning and Problem Solving After Brain Injury is an update on earlier article Decision-making and Problem Solving After Brain Injury
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