The following suggestions were developed to assist recovery from a brain injury.
1. Use Change to Effect Change
Using the sense of touch, instead of vision, exercises our tactile discrimination. Distinguishing these subtle differences increases cortical activation and develops stronger synapses. Here are a few suggestions: Fill a cup with different coins, and while doing another activity, reach into the cup without looking and pick up a coin. By touch alone, determine what each coin is, and without looking, place them in stacks. This works well with other small items of slightly different sizes and textures too, such as nuts, screws, paper clips, washers, candy, jewelry, etc. As an alternative, you can also use small squares of sandpapers, leather, satin or other textures.
2. Smell The Roses
By introducing new aromas in connection with your morning activities – new neural pathways are activated. So, break the routine of freshly brewed coffee (or other aroma) being the first smell you recognize and associate with your morning. Instead, choose another pleasant aroma and keep it in a container by your bedside. Choose a fairly strong scent, such as citrus, berry, peppermint or vanilla extract. Continue to inhale the new aroma as you go about your daily routine of bathing, dressing, etc.
3. Silence Is Golden
Blocking out sound forces us to use other senses to complete even simple tasks, as it forces us to pay attention to everything around us. Headphones and earbuds are just the tool for the job. Use them to provide silence as you go about your daily routine. This allows routines to become ingrained, helping you to “tune out” any sensory input that your brain has determined is not needed for routine tasks.
4. Say Goodbye To How You Buy
Changing the way you shop encourages the growth of neurons, and is another way to introduce yourself to new textures and aromas, not to mention taste. For instance, start your shopping at the opposite end of the grocery store from where you usually start. And, change the way you look for items. Look at everything on the shelves, from the top to the bottom, and check out items that you don’t normally purchase. It’s not necessary to buy them, just find out about them. As well, instead of buying a lot of pre-packaged food, talk to the Deli clerk about fresh sliced meats and cheeses, check out the fresh fish, and browse the bakery. When in the fresh vegetable section, close your eyes, smell the fruits and vegetables and try to identify as many as you can without looking.
5. Play Is A Great Way To Build A Better Brain
Set up a chessboard, or any other strategic game, in a common area. As household member or friend goes by the game, have them make a move, so everyone is an anonymous player and there are no winners or losers. Anonymous player games involve visual-spatial thinking, and provides relief from left-brain, verbal activities. It is also perfect for the workplace when set up in a break room or high traffic area, because it lets other minds take a break too!
6. Give Yourself A Hand – No, The Other Hand
By using your non-dominant hand to perform tasks, you are activating the opposite side of your brain from the side you normally would. This makes the circuits/ connections you would normally use inactive, while the opposite side has to suddenly “wake up” and direct behaviors. This can create rapid expansion in the control and process of tactile information from the hand. So, use your non-dominant hand to perform normal tasks, such as to apply toothpaste to your toothbrush, and then brush your teeth in a totally different pattern than you normally do. Use your non-dominant hand to apply make-up, shave (carefully), brush and style your hair, button/zip clothes, and eat breakfast.
7. Sex Cells
Playing, novelty, challenging your imagination to create heightened sensations can all play a pivotal role in getting those synapsis firing. Sex uses all of our senses, as well as engaging our emotions. The brain really comes alive during a sexual encounter. Candles, music, champagne, massage, perfumed oils, and a feather can all contribute to sensory exploration. Closing your eyes and relying on your other senses is an intuitive part of sexual pleasure. The fun and challenge is finding new ways to make sex an exciting and sensual adventure. Add to that the fact that you’re strengthening your brain!
8. Your Eyes Are Only One Way That You See
Doing things with your eyes closed forces your brain to activate rarely used pathways. It also opens up opportunities for more associations, such as the cold metal on the seat belt, or the ridges on the keys. So, the next time you get ready to drive, close your eyes and use only your senses to begin your trip. Find your keys, unlock the door, get into the seat, buckle your seat belt and start the engine. Continue using your sense of touch and spatial memory to locate the radio and change the station, and to start and shut off the windshield wipers. However, before you put the vehicle in drive, OPEN YOUR EYES!
New and unusual associations stimulate electrical flashes between brain areas that rarely communicate – thus the “storm” in brainstorm. Brainstorming is commonly a technique groups of individuals can use to generate novel ideas and enhance their collective creativity, but also works well if done by yourself. This technique requires heightened expressiveness, postponed evaluation, quantity as opposed to quality contributions, and a conscious effort to improve upon earlier suggestions. The brainstorming method was developed in 1939 by an advertising executive, Alex Osborne, with the desire to improve his colleagues’ abilities to generate new, unusual, and imaginative ideas (Wikipedia). The goal of brainstorming is to encourage individuals to make associations, then exchange and enrich them with other peoples’ associations.
10. Turn Your Life Upside Down
When the objects are upside down, it forces the right brain to kick in and perceive, as opposed to the left brain’s analytical labeling. So, turn your calendar, pictures, artwork, notes on the fridge, clock and anything else you’d like, upside-down. After just a brief glance, the analytical, left side of your brain will try to label an object. Since the right brain perceives “non-verbal” spatial relationships when something is turned upside-down, it interprets the colors, shapes and relationships as puzzle pieces locking into place. This new perception is also thought to bring out the latent artist in each of us.
Creative expression is an excellent exercise for neurons, for they are not only fun, they create new mental associations and pathways. For instance, try your hand at making a video. It could be a story, a mocumentary, a news piece with interviews and viewpoints, a cooking piece or anything that interests you. Or, take a movie you know well, turn off its volume, and listen to another soundtrack instead, using romantic, rock, jazz, musical, or scary music to change the perception of the show. Alternatively, record a favorite television show, then choose friends/family to play each of the characters. Play the program while muted, as each of you make up the dialogue for your character. This can be especially fun with nature programs.
12. Make It Sweet To Eat
Brains love the unexpected. We are creatures of habit, but habit is not always a good thing. To supercharge your brain, try changing the order that you eat your meal. Start with dessert, and end with soup or salad. Eat breakfast for dinner, and dinner for breakfast. Stimulate unusual associations by letting friends and family contribute a new menu idea. For instance, marshmallow fluff and hamburgers will certainly be a novel experience. As well, eat your meal in a new location, like outside, or a picnic on the floor of the living room. Try new and unique foods, and serve them in unusual containers, such as trying to eat French fries from an empty ketchup bottle.
13. To Change, Rearrange
If you continue to do things in the same way, you will continue to get the same results. Therefore, occasionally try introducing new and different elements to your morning. Brain activity increases when novel approaches are used, as evidenced in brain imaging studies. however, this greater “brain power” decreases when activities become routine. For example, instead of watching the morning news, switch to Sesame Street to help you remember how much children explore and learn with abandon. Change your alarm to wake 10 minutes earlier. Change the alarm tone or music to something you have never tried before. Vary the order of your morning routine. Try eating breakfast first, getting ready for work, and then a cup of coffee. You can also change what you’d normally eat for breakfast as well.
14. Get Your ‘But’ In Gear
This is a fun game for people of any age, and forces you to reach into your mental database and make new associations in a humorous way. To play, hand someone an ordinary item and have them think of as many ideas of what that object could be, or do, within a specified time frame. Say one or two minutes. For instance: A spatula could be used as a shovel, but also a microphone, a baseball bat, a flyswatter, a bracelet holder, a canoe paddle, or a fan, etc.
15. Don’t Get Knobby, Start A Hobby
Start a new hobby. Take up knitting or cross stitch. Build a model car or airplane. Switch things up by covering one eye. More touch and spatial skills are then needed, since depth perception is lost when one eye is covered. Master something new; a telescope, a camera, windsurfing, snowboarding or a musical instrument. Hobbies that require the use of more than one sense, and that are not routine, are the best. They also make fine distinctions within one sensory system. Also try something that puts you in a sensory environment which requires you to pay close attention to your surroundings; Cooking, woodworking, fly fishing and archery are a few examples.
16. Reposition Your Disposition
As you go about your daily routines, your cortex and hippocampus construct a spatial map of your space. This results in very little mental effort being needed to move around and function in familiar spaces. Repositioning the location of familiar items reactivates spatial networks, and forces your visual and somatosensory areas to get busy readjusting your internal maps. So, rearrange the furniture, change the order of the clothes in your closet, change your cabinet contents around in the kitchen/bathroom, move your watch to the other wrist, change up your desk or office as well. If your schedule allows, you can also rearrange your daily tasks. Instead of checking your mail first thing in the morning, try eating your breakfast first. Take breaks at different times if possible. Change where you keep your remote control and cell phone. Then, notice when you reach for the old location, and when you catch yourself, redirect yourself to the new location. This reflects how your brain establishes new pathways.
17. Walk, Talk, And Smile For A Mile
We are social creatures who have a name for a condition caused by social deprivation, called ‘Cabin Fever’. People talking to people is a natural state. However, injury can isolate and intimidate, severely restricting communal activities, which are very necessary parts of who and what we are. So, buy a newspaper from a person, not a stand. Go inside to pay for your gas, instead of paying at the pump. Make faces at kids in the car in front of you. Stop somewhere new for breakfast or coffee, and strike up a conversation with a stranger. Cognitive abilities suffer from social deprivation, so keep active and social, for it is critical to your good mental health.
18. Change Your Scene With Cuisine
To build a better brain, break your usual chain. For instance, about once a month try new foods that provide exotic tastes, sensations and smells. Choose a Russian recipe for breakfast, put some crunch in your lunch, and prepare a delicious Danish dinner. This will encourage you to shop someplace new for the ingredients, such as at an ethnic market, which can feed both mind and belly, and provides opportunities to meet people who you’d normally never get to know. When you eat the same types of food, at the same time of day, your taste and smell associative capacities are blunted. So, try something Mexican for breakfast, like a burrito with beef and beans. For lunch, try a Japanese dish with fish and seaweed. For dinner, serve finger foods with exotic sauces and dips from around the world. Also change how you eat; such as use chopsticks; eat with your fingers, and eat at different times of day.
19. Escape To The Cape
Plan a get-a-way, because travel is a great way to expand your mind. Traveling exposes all of your senses to the novelty of new surroundings, and makes the spatial maps you use for normal navigation no longer usable, forcing new pathways to have to be constructed. The discomfort or stress you might feel while taking in new languages, sounds and sights, is actually your brain kicking it up a notch, because research shows that travel helps to restore and rebuild vital neural pathways.
20. Plant A Garden
Give your spatial abilities a boost by planning and planting. Planting a garden, whether on a rooftop in the city, or an acre in the country, is an awesome mental exercise. When gardening, you use all of your senses to decide; Where to plant? What soil to use? What plants to plant? How much sun? How much water ?, etc. Once planting, there is the feel/smell of the earth, then the wonderful aroma of fresh fruit and vegetables, the taste of herbs, and the smells of a beautiful flowers. Planting is a great way to grow your brain.
21. Art Is Always A Smart Start
The creativity of art activates the non-verbal and emotional parts of the cerebral cortex, which are very different than your linear, logical thinking areas of your brain. These non-verbal areas interpret color, texture and form. To really ramp up the benefits, create art as part of a group, such as a mural, which introduces social factors that change associations and help create new neural pathways. So, break out the paper and crayons, pencils or paint, and choose a theme and let your creativity flow. And, create even more brain stimulation by holding the paintbrush/pencil in your teeth, or with your feet.
22. Destination Restoration
To restore and enhance sensory experiences, go on a drive with no destination in mind. Bring along family/friends, and have each person play navigator. Let them make the decisions of when to turn left, right, or when to stop and smell the flowers. You can also spread out a local map, then have someone close their eyes and choose a random location. By going to places you normally never do, and meeting people you’d otherwise never meet, you force your brain to heal in many ways. Why, just the anticipation and excitement of not being sure what comes next, or your end destination, forces your brain to sit up and pat attention!
23. Plead The Need To Read
When we listen to someone else reading, or we read out loud ourselves, we are use different brain circuits than when we read silently. Listening, speaking, and reading all activate different areas of the brain. When we listen to someone reading, it activates two distinct areas in the left and right half of the cortex. Speaking the words aloud activates both sides of the motor cortex, as well as part of the cerebellum. Reading silently activates only one area of the cortex in the left hemisphere. So read loud and proud to your partner/child, and have them read aloud to you. And, always remember, it isn’t the time that it takes to read a book that is important, it is the time you spend with yourself and others that matters. Yes, it may take a while to complete a book, but you will be more complete when you finish.
24. The Best Buy Is A Good Buy
One of the most mentally stimulating activities there is, is shopping. It exposes us to new sights, scents and flavours, and at the same time, provides a form of socialization. The benefits increase even more when you change your shopping routine. So, instead of going to a mega grocery store, stop by an ethnic market, butcher shop, bakery, fish market, produce stand, hardware store, book store or flea market. Ethnic food stores have staff who know all about their products, so learn about where items come from, what they taste like, and how they are used. By seeing, feeling and touching the products (when possible) you form new associative links. Small stores are far more personal, and allow you to have a very different experience than you will in the big box chains. You can touch and experience the products, as opposed to everything being pre-packaged. A bakery’s aroma, or seeing/touching a loose screw in the hardware store, may activate a childhood memory. To increase the level of difficulty, have a partner or friend make out the grocery list, but have them only use descriptions of the items, turning a routine grocery shopping trip into a treasure hunt!
25. Put Your Brain In Park
Take advantage of publicly funded sources of cerebral stimulation, and visit a park or green space in your area. Once you are comfortable, close your eye and use your other senses to determine what’s happening around you. Free-associate using the smells and sounds, and “feel” the experience. Try identifying each of the flowers and shrubs, and spend time bird watching, flying a kite, skipping and running like a child, or swinging into the wind. To step it up another notch, sail a model boat on a pond, or make your own from whatever you can find! Toss a Frisbee, play tag, and top it off with a picnic with new foods you’ve never tried. Then stretch out on a blanket afterward, and use your imagination as you watch clouds float gently by.
Brain injury is a fairly new field of medicine and science, so don’t be afraid to try new things, and if they work, share them with others, because the rule for recovery from a brain injury is “Whatever works!”
For more memory improvement strategies, please visit our Alternative Memory Improvement Strategies page.