Most people don’t realize that the most painful part of living with a serious health issue is losing your identity.
When every day things – that you’ve never given any thought – become difficult and you’re no longer able to do the things that you enjoy, you constantly feel self-conscious, misunderstood, and pressure to be who you once were, especially around people that knew you before your injury/illness.
It feels like you’ll never stop grieving the loss of your old self. To cope with this and to pre-emptively explain themselves, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with brain injuries are very quick to share a detailed recount of their medical history, even with people they’ve just met. This makes me sad to hear, because it means that they have likely turned their injury into their identity. As a result, the injury becomes the only thing that their peers see in them, too.
People from this community also tend to talk more about their past lives than their current ones. For example, they often tell you about the things they used to do; i.e. their past careers, the sports they played, or their hobbies, talents, and skills from before their acquired brain injury. This may be because, on some level, they worry that the current version of themselves is lesser than their original version. Although this line of thinking is understandable considering the constant reminders they have of their new limitations, it is completely untrue. Here’s how I changed the way that I define myself and how I measure my self-worth now.
After a debilitating brain injury, I wasn’t able to tolerate any form of stimulation which meant that I wasn’t able to do anything. I couldn’t even lift my head off the bed to take a sip of water without excruciating pain and exhaustion. At my lowest point, I was absolutely useless to the world and had become a huge burden to my caregiver. But luckily, I have always believed that every life serves a purpose and adds value to the world. So, I refused to accept the notion that I had become worthless. First, I allowed myself to mourn the loss of my old life and then I accepted the reality that things would never be the same. I never gave up hope that things would improve but even if they didn’t, I resolved to do the best with what I had and live my best life. The next step was to figure out who the new me was.
I asked myself, who am I if I can not work, socialize, or volunteer anymore? Can I still tell people that I love to travel if I may never travel again? Am I still considered a TV and movie lover if I no longer watch them? Am I still a foodie if I can’t cook or eat in restaurants? That’s when I realized that I had been using the wrong definition of “self” all along, because I had based my identity on things that I “do”.
Who we are is not simply a sum of our jobs, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. Even our thoughts don’t make us who we are; it’s what we do with those thoughts that does. Eckhart Tolle coined my favourite philosophical definition of the “self”. Paraphrasing in my own words: The real you is the part of your mind that’s aware of your thoughts.
Too often, we base our self-esteem on measurable things such as salaries, belongings (e.g. cars, jewellery, wardrobe), size (e.g. waist, chest, bicep, etc.), fitness abilities, and achievements (e.g. professional and conventional life stages). I decided that I would define myself and measure my self-worth based on the choices that I make. Every time you try again, exercise patience with yourself, focus on what you have as opposed to what you don’t (or how far you’ve come as opposed to how far you’ve left to go), show appreciation to people that have helped you, or do something that helps your health (e.g. drink a glass of water or stretch), you’re building character and proving your value. Internal decisions such as these are significant victories, especially in the face of struggle.
So, who am I? Before my brain injury, I would have answered that question with my profession, travels, and plans for the upcoming weekend. Now, I will tell you that I am grateful and funny, that I’m learning, I persevere, love dogs, and care about others. The more important question is, who are you?
The worlds of brain injury rehabilitation and Virtual reality (VR) are coming closer together.
The technology for VR is advancing very quickly, including multi-player games and the development of devices that involve your entire body to create highly realistic virtual experiences (e.g. driving or flight simulations). Toronto has a VR arcade, Ctrl V, that uses top of the line equipment and offers over 52 different VR games.
Ocutherapy is a new company that is developing VR games tailored for people with brain injuries. The hope is that the games will help brain injury survivors practice certain skills including memory, speed, fluid cognitive abilities and coordination, etc.
The software will track your performance over time. The Ocutherapy games will have simple 3-D graphics and will require minimal VR equipment. The games will be compatible with most of the industry leading VR hardware (head sets and controllers). If you own a Chromecast device and have access to WiFi, then you could display what the player is seeing in the headset onto a WiFi enabled TV or computer monitor, so someone else could watch and help the player figure out the game as needed. Ocutherapy is still in development and is not yet available for sale. Although you will eventually be able to buy the system for yourself (likely before the end of 2019), the company is also working on getting their product into some occupational and physiotherapy offices.
Much like in real life, when you’re playing, you can only see the part of the virtual environment that’s directly infront of you. So, if you’re standing in the middle of a room in the game, you have to turn your head (or your entire body) to see the rest of the room. The controller can sense your spatial presence and hand and arm motions and allows you to interact with the VR environment. You click on buttons to select options, move forward, and pick things up and move them around, etc.
VR has never been formally used as a rehabilitation aid before, so they can’t predict if it will be right for your condition.
Here’s an example of what it’s like to play one of Ocutherapy’s task-oriented games. You start off feeling like you’re standing in the middle of a room. Using the controller, you navigate through hallways and stairs to enter a kitchen. Then you ‘stand’ in front of a counter to make sandwiches based on specific instructions (e.g. four four slices of cheese, three slices of tomato and three slices of lettuce). Part of the challenge is in having to remember the details of the instructions as you complete the task. You use the controller to simulate picking up a knife and slicing cheese before picking up the cheese slices and placing them on a slice of bread. Then you finish making the sandwich by adding the remaining ingredients and another slice of bread.
If you are interested in trying the games for yourself, Ocutherapy will be offering a demonstration at the BIST Community Meeting on August 28, 2019. Find out more, HERE
I tried Ocutherapy for one session and here are my personal thoughts about the experience (note: I am not a health care professional):
The advantages of using VR include:
A fun and interesting experience
Something new to try
The opportunity to learn how to use new technology
The ability to practice certain skills in the comfort of your own home
Fewer distractions while you’re completing the virtual tasks
The headset and controller can be used to play VR games produced by other companies as well
Disadvantages of using VR include:
The head set felt a little bit heavy for me, so I wouldn’t recommend VR if you have whiplash or if neck strain could exacerbate your symptoms
If you are sensitive to light and electronic devices, then VR will be difficult to use, because the screen is electronic and close to your eyes
VR can make even perfectly healthy people feel nauseous. I felt nauseous after just a few minutes of playing Ocutherapy, but my most recent brain injury was less than four months prior to that
Using VR as a rehabilitation aid for brain injuries is a brand new approach, so there isn’t enough research available to know if it will actually improve the skills in real-life application.
The more advanced the technology, the more real the simulation feels. At a minimum, you must wear a headset and use a hand-held controller. The headset is designed to block your peripheral vision so the only thing that you can see is a small screen placed a few inches away from your eyes.
Learn more about Occutherapy at our August Community Meeting
No matter what you’re celebrating – be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza – or any other holiday – during the winter season traditions, celebrations and get togethers can be expensive, especially when gifts are involved. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to set a realistic budget and stick to it, so here are some tips to help you spend within your financial means during the holidays.
#1. Reduce the number of gifts you buy
Make an exhaustive list of all of the people you typically purchase gifts for. Review the list and see if you can shorten it. Ask yourself, is there anyone you don’t see as often, or anyone that you keep on your list simply because they have you on theirs? It might be time to cut them out.
It can be helpful to think about who are the people that you buy personalized gifts for, and who you buy generic gifts for. Consider not purchasing gifts for the people who fall in the latter category. This doesn’t have to be an awkward moment, a simple conversation or email to say you’re trying to save some money, de-clutter or that you have everything you need already, is usually all it takes for people to get the message. Ask what they think of no longer exchanging gifts, and odds are they will happily agree.
Suggest only getting gifts for the children in your lives. Adults can arrange a Secret Santa or Gift Swap, where each person brings one gift for one adult. Set a price range everyone can agree on, and remember a smaller amount can be even more fun, because then people have to be creative and thoughtful. I’ve also done this with gift themes, like practical gifts, handmade gifts, cooking tools, or re-gifted items only.
Here’s another option: my favourite type of party to host is an exchange party, because one person’s trash is truly another person’s treasure. People bring gently used clothing, shoes, accessories, or household items that they don’t want or need anymore. It all gets placed in the centre of a room and then people can look through and take home any items they like. Anything remaining at the end of the night gets donated to a charity that accepts such items.
Once you’ve finalized the list of people that you will be giving gifts to, it’s important to set a realistic budget per person and stick to it. It will be very tempting to add little things or to get more expensive presents, but if you’re not strict about not going over budget, your finances could suffer for quite some time after the holiday season. It’s not worth it, and your friends and family don’t want that for you.
#2. Choose less expensive gifts
Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received barely cost anything, check out some of these ideas below.
Write it Out
Write a letter expressing how much someone means to you. Relive favourite memories, share what you admire about them and let them know the difference they’ve made in your life. The recipient will feel very touched and appreciated, and just the surprise of receiving something in the mail is a wonderful gift in and of itself.
The most thoughtful gifts are homemade. If you want to give people edible gifts, cookies, cake, or chocolate truffles made from scratch (or close to it) are great. If you want to give a bit more, wrap the food in in an additional gift, such as a tea towel, baking pan, or a pretty dish, bowl, or gift box. Alternatively, you can assemble meals in glass jars, such as this delicious split pea soup. You can also check out some of BIST’s favourite Chef Janet Craig’s easy recipes, such as these amazing coconut cranberry slices.
For the Crafty Folk
If you’re a knitter, handmade comfy socks, scarves or ornaments make a great gift. Another idea: my cousin starts growing unique plants up to a year in advance and separates the baby plants into new pots. Then she gives the individual plants away as gifts for the holidays. All you need, other than time, sunlight, and water, is small, inexpensive pots and potting soil.
Make an Advent Calendar
I love receiving and making advent calendars. You can use kraft or wrapping paper to make gift bags, you can reuse small boxes, or sew your own mini stockings (DIY instructions HERE.
I’ve seen people wrap toilet paper rolls in pretty paper. Number the gifts from 1 to 24 and you’ll be able to surprise someone for almost the entire month of December. I like to collect little $1 items for advent calendars throughout the year, such as small toys, craft supplies, stickers or $1 lottery scratch tickets. You can also write down inspirational quotes or suggest a daily activity, such as building a snow man.
#3. Life Hacks on Saving Money while Shopping
If you decide to spend money on gifts, here are some tips for how you can still save money on your purchases:
Make a donation to a cause that your friends and family are passionate about. Make the donation in their name and send a card to let them know.
Buy discounted gift cards, look for deals where you pay less but get a higher valued gift card. Costco offers these on a regular basis, while Cineplex often offers deals closer to the holiday season. Just be sure to read the fine print, because sometimes an expiration date may apply.
Start early – really early
The following tips work best if you know exactly what you want to give to each of the people on your list:
Start researching prices and shopping early in the year so you can track sales and figure out what the best prices are. It also allows you to spread the cost of the holidays across several months. Just don’t purchase edible items too early in advance!
Go to chat forums such as www.redflagdeals.com where people share and discuss all sorts of deals and sales.
Be sure to compare the prices of the items you’re looking for across different stores. Don’t forget to price compare online, if you’re able to.
Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the best prices and sales that you find throughout the year. Sales are often announced in flyers and on store websites. I love using the flipp app to pull up and compare all of the flyers in one easy place.
The best deals are when you can stack promotions. For example, if you have a general coupon that you can use on anything in a store, wait to see if your item gets heavily discounted, and then use your coupon to get a further discount. Check the conditions and keep an eye on the expiration date.
Find out which stores near you will price match and learn their conditions. Some companies will even offer you an additional discount when you price match in their store.
The most important things to consider when shopping online are exchange rates, shipping costs and times, refund/exchange policy, and applicable duty costs.
If you’re shopping for experiences, try deals websites such as groupon.com and wagjag.com but read the fine print as they tend to have short expiration dates and multiple conditions.
If you shop online often, consider signing up for an account with ebates.ca which will give you cash back if you shop on certain websites through the ebates link.
Some of the best discounts are not advertised. For big ticket items such as TVs, appliances and furniture, stores will sell discontinued models at a very good price. You can ask sales associates if they have any discontinued models or when they are expecting the manufacturers to release new lists.
Here’s wishing you a happy, stress-free and cost-efficient holiday!
Examples of rewarding and therapeutic activities include, but are not limited to: gardening, crafting, and my favourite, cooking. The entire process of preparing a meal – from the planning and anticipation to the execution, eating and sharing – promotes mindfulness, creativity, and happiness.
I love that cooking can be as simple or as complex as you’d like and that there is always something new to learn. There are many benefits to making your own meals, such as:
saving money and time
improving mental and physical health
avoiding unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods
challenging yourself to try new things, acquiring new skills and knowledge
raising confidence and sense of independence
spending quality time with family and friends when you cook and eat together
Food is a conversational topic that many people are passionate about. You might even consider starting your own blog to journal your culinary experiences, post favourite recipes, and share helpful tips and tricks.
Look for some inspiration!
CookingwithAlison.com is a food blog, written by an ABI survivor, that shares recipes from different cultures that vary in difficulty. You will also find information about different ways to save money on groceries.
Don’t forget this blog’s own recipe column by Chef Janet Craig, Blow Your Mind Recipes, which features easy and nutritious recipes for the ABI Community, featuring delicious recipes such as:
Psychologists explain that baking feels really good, especially when you share your baked goods with other people, because it is an outlet for creativity, self-expression and communication.
There is evidence that connects creative expression with overall well-being. Whether that expression is through painting, creating music or baking, it can be very effective at helping you cope with stress, because it requires all of your attention, involves all of your senses, and results in being present and mindful.
Psychologists liken the act of baking to art therapy in that it can be used on a type of therapy called behavioural activation. And simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we share our baked goods with others.
Personally, I love the feeling when I find a new favourite recipe or when I’ve finally perfected a technique. It takes a few batches to get there. Happy cooking and baking!
Studies have long shown that sleep deprivation, especially when chronic, can have detrimental effects to our health.
Just to name a few, poor sleep quality can impair brain activity, cognitive function, decision-making, concentration, learning, memory, balance, coordination, and emotional state. It also increases the chance of being involved in an accident.
All of these are common to the symptom profile of brain injury survivors. One of the most frustrating lingering effects from my concussion was disrupted sleep. At night, I had trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and entering deep sleep. I either felt like I was half awake or I’d have terrible and vivid nightmares.
During the day, I was beyond tired and frequently took long, restless naps. I thought that I would never get better until a simple change to my sleep schedule triggered drastic improvements across all of my symptoms.
A neuropsychologist was the first to suggest that I focus my efforts solely on waking up at the same time each morning. Coupled with avoiding napping, this reset my circadian rhythm (i.e. internal clock) and improved the quality of my sleep. The medical director of the sleep laboratory that I visited also recommended this approach. After adhering to the new routine for just a few days, my headaches lessened in frequency and severity, the brain fog lifted, my mood stabilized, and I was able to tolerate more stimulation. Instead of relying on pharmaceuticals, I have adopted the following strategies for sleeping problems to my lifestyle.
Guidelines for Optimizing Sleep Health
Reset your Circadian Rhythm
Our bodies were meant to sleep after sun set and to wake with the sun rise. In fact, the highest quality of sleep that you can have is before midnight. However, bright lights in large cities, sedentary lifestyles, and modern technology has resulted in bad sleep habits that disrupt our internal biological clocks. Here are different ways that you can reset your circadian rhythm.
Go camping for one week
Studies have shown that camping for at least one week can reset adults’ internal clocks. This result was contributed to increased exposure to natural sunlight during the day and reduced exposure to artificial lights at night. That means that you don’t have to go camping to sync your body’s clock to nature’s light and dark cycle. See other strategies below.
Set your alarm and wake up at the same time, every single day
Setting a daily routine will help your body shift its circadian rhythm. It is difficult to control when you fall asleep at night, so focus more on when you wake up. Be sure to get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. If desired, set your wake up time half an hour earlier every three to four weeks, until you’ve reached the ideal time for your lifestyle. Eventually, your body will be conditioned to naturally wake up at the same time. The remaining tips will help you fall asleep faster and will make getting out of bed easier.
Get exposure to sunlight
Get at least half an hour of sunlight during the day. According to my sleep clinic, this is most effective if done within 30 minutes of waking up.
Don’t take naps!
If you must take a nap in the middle of the day, set an alarm and don’t nap for more than 20 minutes.
Avoid blue light before bedtime
Artificial lights and electronic devices emit blue wavelengths of light that suppress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.3 Using a TV, computer, phone, or tablet within 1 hour before bed will make your brain think that it’s still day time and disrupt your circadian rhythm.
An extreme method
I stayed awake for 36 hours straight so that I would be sleepy enough to fall asleep at an appropriate hour on the second night. I then applied all of the other healthier techniques moving forward. My neuropsychologist said that this extreme method is not appropriate for everyone, so consult your doctor first.
Adjust your diet
Avoid caffeine after 10 am
An even better idea would be to give up caffeine altogether for at least four weeks. Keep in mind that caffeine may be hidden in foods and beverages other than coffee and tea. This includes chocolate (i.e. cocoa), soft drinks, energy waters or drinks, coffee or chocolate flavoured ice cream, medications, etc.
Alcohol’s initial effects may make you feel sleepy, but it will actually wake you up in the middle of the night and/or decrease the quality of your sleep.
Don’t eat three hours before bedtime
You shouldn’t go to bed hungry either, so if you must eat before bed, choose healthy, light snacks and consume small portions.
Adjust your lifestyle
Regular physical activity, especially outdoors, will do wonders for your overall and sleep health. But if you exercise after 6 pm, it may end up stimulating instead of relaxing you.
Use your bed only for sleeping and sex
You don’t want to condition yourself to associate your bed with any activities other than sleeping. Also, if you’re unable to fall asleep or fall back asleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something that is non-stimulating and does not involve electronic devices. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again.
Don’t try too hard
When it’s time for bed, don’t try too hard to fall asleep. If you focus on the fact that you aren’t able to sleep, count the hours left in the night, or fixate on all of the things that you need to do the next day, stress and anxiety will prevent you from relaxing and will keep you awake even longer.
Inspect your bedroom
Ensure that your mattress has the right firmness for your comfort.
Ensure that your pillow supports your neck sufficiently.
Use blackout curtains in your bedroom.
Remove all artificial lights and electronic devices from your bedroom.
This will also prevent you from looking at the clock when you’re having trouble sleeping in the middle of the night. Checking the time when you can’t sleep can stress you out and keep you awake.
Create a bedtime routine and start getting ready 2 – 3 hours before bedtime
Take a hot bath or shower
Taking a nice hot bath or shower will relax you, but doing so within 2 hours prior to bedtime will keep you awake.
Write down your stressors and plans
As our bodies relax, our minds tend to wander and fixate on past mistakes, present stressors, and future plans. So 2 to 3 hours before bedtime, sit down with a pen and paper and write down your concerns, ideas, and to-do lists. Then set them aside so that you don’t have to worry about them until the next day.
Turn off lights and electronic devices before bedtime
At least 1 hour prior to bedtime, turn off all electronic devices. It is also preferable to turn off all of the lights. At the very least, dim the lights or use candlelight. Research also shows that wearing amber lenses in the evening can be effective at blocking blue light and improving sleep quality.5 Furthermore, keep all lights and devices turned off if you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep. Just be very careful making your way to and using the bathroom in the dark.
Have a warm beverage
Drink a cup of warm milk before bed, because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep. Alternatively, a naturopath recommended drinking a cup of herbal tea (e.g. chamomile flowers, lemon balm, or tulsi/holy basil) within 30 minutes to one hour before bed. If you are taking any medications, speak to your doctor and/or pharmacist to ensure that your herbal teas won’t interact with your drugs.
Take a magnesium supplement
Taking magnesium 30 minutes to one hour prior to bed may help with sleep disturbances. Consult your doctor and/or pharmacist to determine your proper dosage and to ensure that it won’t interact with any of your medications.
Wash your face and brush your teeth 1 hour prior to going to bed
Washing my face and brushing my teeth, especially when done with the lights on, tends to invigorate me, so I do these before I really start to wind down.
Engage in a relaxing activity
The goal of your night routine is to unwind your mind and relax your body before bedtime. Try a non-stimulating activity such as meditation, gentle yoga or stretching, colouring, or reading a boring book or magazine.
I still struggle with fatigue and sleep some days, but I’m confident that if I consistently practice these good habits, high quality sleep will soon come easily.
Alison suffered a concussion in 2013 that completely changed her lifestyle. She is finding her way back to her old self and still loves traveling, dogs, cooking, and helping others. She hopes to help other brain injury survivors and their caregivers by sharing her experience and by spreading awareness.
Holzman DC. What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light.Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010;118(1):A22-
Burkhart K and Phelps JR. Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiology International. 2009;26(8);1602-1612.
Without lights and sounds associating with gaming apps or consoles, board games are less stimulating than other activities and require very little physical exertion. They were among very few things that I was able to do during the acute phase of my injury.
After my injury, I wanted to avoid my friends, because conversations were exhausting and difficult to follow. But playing board games with friends was perfect. I got the social connection that I needed without having to engage in deep conversation. Also, the pressure and focus was off of me, since everyone’s attention was directed towards the game.
Not to mention, board games are super fun (heck, they’ve withstood the test of time), provide hours of distraction, and can be played solo. I didn’t need assistance or company for entertainment.
The selection of board games is endless, so there’s always something new to try.
How to challenge yourself using board games:
The following guidelines will teach you how to train your brain by gradually increasing the difficulty of your board games. The steps should be tackled one at a time, moving forward only when you are confident with the previous step. Be patient with yourself, as you may need weeks or months before advancing. Regular practice and repetition are the keys to success here.
In the beginning, focus only on learning and following the rules of the game. Don’t worry about speed or trying to win. Simply learn the basics of how to play. Play as many times as needed to become familiar with it. This will improve your learning and memory skills.
If you’re playing a game by yourself, then play with the goal of improving your result, speed, or efficiency. For example, depending on the game, you could try to collect more points, finish the game more quickly, or finish the game using fewer moves. Work through one objective at a time.
If you’re playing a game with others, figure out one strategy that will help you win the game. However, the focus should be on discovering and practicing the strategy, not on winning. This promotes problem-solving skills. If you’re stuck, ask the person you’re playing with to teach you their approach. Once you’re familiar with the first one, see if there are other strategies that could help you win the game. Determine which one(s) are the most effective. Eventually, the goal is to use a combination of strategies at the same time. This is great practice for multi-tasking skills. You might even start winning more games.
Now that you’ve figured out how you like to play the game, it’s time to pay attention to how your opponents are playing. See if they make decisions differently from you, figure out what their strategies are, and try to predict their next moves. Compare their approach to your own, see which one is more effective, and learn from them. Furthermore, think of new tactics that will prevent your opponents from winning. This will exercise your analytical and critical-thinking skills.
Finally, try to improve your chances of winning. You will likely need to change your plan multiple times throughout a game in order to adapt to new scenarios/problems and to circumvent your opponents. Once you become really good at the game, start these steps over again with a different game.
Board games that can be adapted for single players:
While it’s better to play board games with other people, one-player games allow you to practice at any time. Some of the board games listed were not originally designed for single players, but you will find solo variant instructions online. The following suggestions vary widely in difficulty and cost.
Honourable mention: Code Names – Although this game cannot be played solo, it is, in my opinion, the best word-focused, brain training game. It allows you to practice communication, word associations, and different thought processes. The cards could even be used separately for reading and comprehension.
Set – This simple card game is really good for unique pattern-recognition, concentration, and different lines of thinking.
Bingo – even more fun if there are small prizes to be won.
Carcassonne – No language skills are required to play this tile-based puzzle / strategic game.
Enigma – Includes fragment puzzles and 3-D puzzles among other challenges.
Honourable mention: Sudoku – This is not a board game, but it’s great for figuring out number patterns. The difficulty ranges from easy to very hard. Also, you can find free printable sudokus online.
Fine Motor Skills Games
Jenga – Try Giant Jenga if fine motor skills are an issue.)
Perfection – There’s the original version with 25 pieces and a more affordable version with only 9 pieces. This game also has a pattern-matching/puzzle component to it.
Honourable mention: Building blocks and sets (e.g wooden blocks, jumbo cardboard blocks, Mega Bloks, Lego, K’Nex, etc.) – These aren’t board games, but they’re great for stimulating creativity.
There are many different versions of matching card games that were designed to practice memory skills. See here for more information, you could also play this type of memory game using a regular deck of cards.
Blokus – This tile-placement game does not require language skills.
Mage Knight – This is the most complex and expensive board game I’ve listed in this article. It is a strategic game that is based in an adventure and story. The game includes instructions for solo play, but there are many pieces and rules, so I suggest watching YouTube videos, HERE and HERE that help explain them.
My Favourite Games Stores:
Walmart doesn’t have a large selection of unique games, but every now and then they have great sales on classic games. I purchased the following games for less than $20 each while they were on sale: Scattegories, Bingo, puzzles, Jenga, Perfection, Sudoku books, and decks of playing cards.
This is my favourite board games store. They have an extensive selection, competitive prices, and incredibly knowledgeable staff. They have a storefront at 518 Yonge Street, Toronto, and an online store as well.
Although their store is wheelchair accessible, their games room for events is not. If you want to avoid a crowd, go before 3 pm or shop online. I suggest ordering your games online and then picking them up at the store to save on shipping. If transportation is an issue, shipping is a flat rate of $8.95 per order. Shipping is free for orders of $150 or more.
The facts are scary. Research suggests people with traumatic brain injuries have a higher risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. The good news is research also suggests that by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and participating in key activities, the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia may be reduced by 50 per cent.
A healthy lifestyle includes doing what we’re all supposed to be doing anyway: maintaining a healthy diet, getting quality sleep and proper stress management.
Here are three main types of activities that can prevent, slow and possibly even reverse cognitive deterioration:
Regular, moderately intense exercise is essential. Keep in mind that the definition of moderate exercise is different for everyone. If you exercise too lightly, you won’t reap the benefits from it, but if you push yourself too hard, you risk injuring yourself. Where possible, the exercise regimen should include cardiovascular, muscle strengthening, and balance exercises. Do what you can and do your best. For example, if you can only use your arms, then find endurance and strength training exercises that are tailored to your arms, shoulders, and back.
You can find examples of exercise routines from a chair, here.
Face-to-face interaction is the best. You can be one-on-one or with a group of people as long as you are engaged in the exchange. You could join a club, volunteer, take a class, chat with a friend over coffee, go to a museum etc. If you aren’t able to go out, have a phone conversation or video chat with a friend.
There are many different types of brain training activities with varying difficulty. The greater the challenge and novelty, the better, but work your way up to more complex activities gradually. Here are just some suggestions:
learn something new (e.g. skill, language, musical instrument etc.)
change your habits (e.g. use your non-dominant hand, explore new routes, try different organizational systems for your things and electronic files, etc.)
play games (e.g. board games, card games, puzzles, crosswords, riddles, brain teasers, memory games, word or number games, math games, etc.)
Other important factors to take into consideration:
The activities must be challenging and engaging, which means that they should be, at least, moderate in complexity or intensity. Remember to increase the level of difficulty of your activities as you improve.
There must be variety in the activities, so that your brain is truly being challenged to form new neural connections. Adding variety to your regimen will also help to make your activities more fun, engaging, and challenging.
The best results are achieved when a single task incorporates at least two of the three types of activities. For example, playing board games with other people is considered a social activity as well as a mentally challenging activity. Also, exercising with another person and playing a team sport have both physical and social components, making them better options than exercising by yourself.
I’d like to note that these strategies are also helpful in treating brain injuries, depression, and low self-esteem. So get active, try new things, connect with friends, and have fun with it!
Thank you to Dr. Emily Nalder for presenting this information at BIST’s Aging and the Brain seminar in February, 2015.