‘Brain Book’ Helps TBI Survivor Manage Life

Kathy Moeller 1995

A day planner can help persons with head injury organize their lives so they can live and work independently. But a planner not designed for the unique needs of such a person can be more frustrating than helpful, said TBI survivor Kathy Moeller of Ashland, Ore.

Moeller sustained a head injury in a 1990 traffic collision. A former business executive, Moeller now spends much of her time as a compensatory skills trainer and job coach for the vocational rehabilitation division of Southern Oregon Goodwill Industries.

Moeller spoke last fall at the 1994 Washington State Head Injury Foundation Conference about the challenges and benefits of developing a new kind of dayplanner, which she has dubbed her “brain book life management system.”

For two years after her injury, Moeller struggled to return to work. She attributes her eventual success to mastering the memory book system she developed to teach herself compensation skills-strategies for coping with short-term memory problems and difficulties following oral instructions, sequencing and scheduling tasks, setting priorities, and controlling emotions.

“I’ve adapted my planner to replicate on paper the cognitive steps I once took in my head,” she said. “I see my planner as an assistive device. In fact, I sometimes call it my ‘mental wheelchair.'”

“My logbook has been essential in helping me relearn how to plan, think, solve problems, and set priorities. As a head injury survivor, I’ve learned that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth scheduling.”

Moeller developed her individualized planning system out of her own frustration. Like others admitted to inpatient rehabilitation, she was given a commercial day planner, such as those found in office supply stores, but found that it required too much adaptation.

“It was helpful for certain things but limiting for others. Instead of helping me regain control of my life, my logbook overwhelmed me.”

“Most commercial day planners devote little or no space to the special notes, organization, and planning a person with brain injury needs to manage the activities of daily living, personal and financial commitments, and short- and long-term goals, “Moeller explained. “And relying on others when your short-term memory fails can impede progress toward independence.”

Generic “to do” lists might not work either, as they often lack the details a person with a head injury needs to complete tasks in a timely and accurate manner.

Moeller’s planner is divided by color-coded tabs that remind her where to log certain information. For instance, she uses the “green” section to schedule daily, weekly, monthly, or periodic tasks. This section is further divided into “indoor” and “outdoor” tasks by green and blue tabs respectively.

A “Talk To” section helps her keep notes on subjects to be discussed with other persons. In the “Directions” section, coded by a yellow tab, Moeller keeps worksheets and guidelines for writing clear directions and “directions cards” for logging final versions. To plan non-routine simple tasks, Moeller turns to the “Planning” section, denoted by a blue tab, where she keeps preprinted planning worksheets that walk her through the logical steps required to complete the task, no matter what the complexity.

She also maintains an “Upset” section in her logbook, which provides guidelines on managing emotional overload. “One of my favorite sections is the ‘Problem-Solving’ section where I keep pre-printed worksheets that guide me through the steps required to solve a problem. There is space for listing alternatives, evaluating consequences, and analyzing decisions,” she said.

Like many brain injury survivors, Moeller found it difficult to read and process information presented in sharp contrast (i.e., black words on white paper), so she ordered her logbook pages in an off-white shade to soften the contrast. She also ordered pages pre-printed with wide-spaced lines so she could make her entries as detailed as necessary.

Her logbook entries, which she files chronologically, have been valuable in helping her gauge her cognitive improvement over time, she said.

“Any head injury survivor who can read and write can benefit from a logbook designed for their needs,” Moeller said.

“The only ones who can’t use a log-book with any success are those who deny they need it,” a challenge Moeller faced during the early phase of her recovery.

“Persons with brain injury often cannot rely on their brains as they once did, but a ‘paper brain’ can help them achieve their maximum independence — if they know how to use it.”

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Kathy Moeller is Co-founder of RE-COGNITION, Inc., a cognitive retraining company that conducts workshops on using a day planner and publishes training materials for head injury survivors and their tutors or job coaches. For more information, call Kathy Moeller at BRAIN BOOK® System, Inc. at (541) 779-5646.