Useful tools or symptom inducers? On using smartphones when you have a brain injury


I had my accident in July 2015, right in the middle of the smartphone era. About a month after my TBI, I was in the hospital and I got my phone back for the first time. I tried to reply to a text. It didn’t work. My brain tried to tell my fingers to type, but nothing happened. The connection was lost.

Four years later, the connection is back. And now, I rely on my smartphone more than ever for certain things. There are so many pros with smartphones when dealing with a brain injury, but there are also cons.

smart phone with image of devil horns "OR" and angel halo


  • Calendar: Having a calendar app on my phone is what I rely on the most. My app can set reminders for events. I have inconsistent appointments, so I set the event to remind me the day before. Also, having your schedule with you is helpful for planning stuff on the go.
    • App I use: iCal
  • Reminders: If I remember I need to pay a bill but I’m away from home, right away I put it in my reminders app. If I don’t do this, I will forget it by the time I get home. I set reminders at a specific time that I know I will be available to do this task.
    • App I use: Reminders (iPhone)
  • Medication Reminders: Sometimes I’m in a rush and forget to take my meds. Every day, I’ll get a reminder at the same time. If I forget to take it, I can use one of the extras I carry with me when I’m out.
    • App I use: Pill Reminder
  • Headache Tracker: I find tracking headache symptoms on the go helpful, rather than trying to remember how I felt the next day. It’s not ideal to be looking at a screen with a headache, but it can pay off to notice patterns with symptoms.
    • App I use: Headache Diary Pro
  • Step counter: Monitoring my steps throughout the day is helpful for my energy levels. When I reach 10,000 steps, I know it’s time to rest or I will burn out.
    • App I use: Health (iPhone)


  • Blue light: That nasty blue light on your phone is the worst for your eyes and can be a nightmare when you have a headache. For me, I find it drains my energy if I look at it too long.
  • Social media (energy): I can get into a deep Internet hole with social media accessible at any time. I set myself daily limits and when I reach them certain apps will lock.
  • Social media (emotional): Seeing friends living their best lives while I’m at home on the couch sucks. This can be detrimental for a person’s mental health, especially if their injury prevents them from doing certain activities.

In conclusion, there are a lot more pros than cons to my smartphone usage. There aren’t many cons, but those that exist can be significant.  All one has to do is find strategies to deal with the cons so that the pros can be enjoyed. In a way, we are lucky to have smartphones to help us deal with our injuries, and make life a bit easier.

The Blue Helmet Girl is a woman in her mid-twenties who acquired a TBI 4 years ago, and after 3 open head surgeries, has recovered remarkably. With a high level of organization skills and self-awareness, she hopes to help others by sharing her unique story and strategies. In her spare time, you can find her hanging out with her dog, taking pictures or writing in her journal.

Follow her on Twitter @theBHjourney, on Instagram @bluehelmetjourney or





Community meeting: technology and ABI

It’s an understatement to say that assistive technology has grown exponentially over the years, and at our October community meeting guest speakers Tracy Milner and Heather Condello, both registered occupational therapists at Complex Injury Rehab Inc, gave us the scoop on how technology can help in the everyday lives of people living with brain injury.

smart phone

At the meeting, we discussed:

  • how to keep up with all the devices and apps that are available
  • which devices and apps are best suited to meet the needs of ABI survivors


Smartphones are like computers, and have more functionality than regular cellphones. They have the capacity for:

  • email, contacts, calendars
  • web browsing
  • document management, reminders, notes
  • pictures, videos
  • apps
  • social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc.)
  • WiFi
  • data plans
person using smartphone

Data plans

Data plans cover Internet use on your device, allowing you to do things such as check email, use social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and download things when you’re not connected to WiFi. When using data, it is important to be mindful of overage charges (going over your monthly data plan will result in extra charges) and roaming charges (depending on your plan, you may pay extra for data if you are out of town). Accessing WiFi (from home, or a library, coffee shop) does not use any of your data – so it’s best to to download apps or check email when you’re on WiFi. Data plan options include: 3G/4G/LTE and WiFi only (no data plan.) Flex plans and pay-as-you use are also available.

Risks with smartphones

  • losing your device – to protect yourself, download a lost phone finder 
  • breaking your device
  • using your phone impulsively

Complex Rehab Inc. has a smartphone selection worksheet to help you decide on which smartphone to buy. They have also created a ‘Day in the life with a smartphone‘ document to demonstrate how using a smartphone can help you with many daily activities when you’re living with a brain injury.

veteran using iPad app to relax


In general, tablets are a larger version of the smartphone. They can be purchased without a data plan, or 3G/4G/LTE options. iPad and Android are the most common type of tablets, but others are available, including e-readers. In general, tablets:

  • have larger screens than smart phones, from five to 13 inches wide
  • have similar capability as smartphones for apps
  • are lighter than laptops, and are easier to carry around
  • are a more mainstream compensatory strategy

Having said that, tablets also come with some risks. They can be broken or lost (though there are apps to help you find a lost tablet), and some may need support to set up and maintain their tablet. Their screens may also be diffiicult for some to use.

Therapeutic considerations

When choosing a device, it’s important to keep in mind the following:

  • size and weight of the device
  • touch screen sensitivity
  • if typing on a touch screen is difficult, keyboards for tablets can be purchased and are faily low cost
  • other accessories which can help with accessibility include stylus options, gloves, switch access and tongue drive systems
  • accessibility features include visual and hearing aids, voice control and physical access options such as mounting
  • battery life – a good battery is important so you can use your device on the go
  • consider where you’ll use the device (wheelchair, bed, table) and make sure the tablet you choose can be used comfortably in these locations
  • swing arm mounts can also be helpful

Choosing apps

There are about a zillion apps to chose from – and several kinds which can help with living with the effects of brain injury (see below.)  Here are some things to consider when choosing an app:

  • look at reviews and screen shots of apps before you download
  • once you select an app for download, a password is required
  • on an iPhone, you can download multiple apps with one password input over a certain amount of time, but use caution as many apps cost money and you don’t want to be inadvertently charged
  • downloading apps is faster when done on WiFi
  • pay attention to third-party software – which adds features to already downloaded apps but can also cost money
  • Free apps can contain a lot of ads, these can be distracting and are easy to accidentally click on
  • Not all apps are available across all devices


a list of types of app to help people with ABI

Other kinds of technology

There are lots of other technological options than smartphones and tablets, here are some:

Smart homeshave environmental controls such as lighting, home devices, alarm, door, video,  and AV controls

SmartTVs – TVs with Internet connectivity

Gaming Consoles – Wii, Xbox, PS4

Roomba – the robot vacuum

Electronic door openers

Remote control blinds and shades

Smart watches (think of a watch with smartphone capabilities) and smart rings (which are not available in the mass market, but are available through pre-orders if you’re tempted)

Google Glass – wearable glasses with smartphone like abilities and natural language voice command

Sleep monitoring – devices that keep track of how much you’ve slept

Adapted from Tracy Milner’s and Heather Condello’s presentation at the BIST community meeting on October 26th, 2015