Dec 272016

I’ve begun Cogmed to train my working memory, that brief moment you hold something in memory in order to accomplish a task or store a piece of knowledge before you forget then scratch your head as you futilely try to remember what you were doing or reading.

The folks at the ADD Centre had told me about Cogmed a few years ago, but between lack of funds, lack of social support at home, and lack of energy, I declined at the time.

But I’ve spent most of 2016 stuck at home, and despite floods and pests trying to suck up dollars, I’ve saved a lot in medical costs. (Unfortunately, Virginia, there is no such thing as universal health care in Canada. What we call universal covers only the basics and no treatment outside of hospitals, especially for brain injury. There is no Santa Claus of health care despite the Canadian myth.) Also, I hate this time of year, too many long-term traumatic memories, and needed something to consume my brain space.

Cogmed is an online course you do about 1 hour per day, 5 days per week for 5 weeks. It’s intensive, and part of the pre-admission interview is to ensure you have the time and are not planning on doing anything else beyond your usual routine. (You really don’t understand how intensive it is until after the first 5 days when you reach your optimal memory level.) Also, they tease out whether your issue is attention or memory. Since my attention has been well treated at the ADD Centre, and as long as I’m in a quiet environment, I’m not likely to be distracted, memory not attention is my issue now. They want you to do Cogmed in a quiet place anyway. They also ask you about your sleep — they have my sleep study results — and current level of working memory — they assessed me most recently just over a year ago. It helps being their client: I don’t have to gather up any test results to send to them!

They take you through a demo then send you all the login details. While they set you up, you work out your Cogmed schedule; weekly and maybe daily rewards and a final one to help motivate you to keep going; and a time for your weekly 15-minute coaching call. My coach sent me the best times for her, and I picked when good for me too.

I had trouble coming up with rewards. My coach was patient, gave me some suggestions, but was thrilled when I came up with pretty inks for my fountain pen and a new groovy fountain pen for my final reward. During our coaching call, which happened on Day 6 of my Cogmed training, she also suggested a small daily treat as I had reached my optimal level and would no longer see the big daily improvements I’d experienced during week one. The program is designed to make you feel good in week one; then it gets tough. Lots of tries and fails at the same level, no going down a level quickly so that you have a success.

Anyway, I’d intended to start on a Monday, going Monday to Friday, taking the weekend off. But then realized the first two days of the week are actually my toughest. I need energy for this! So I began on Saturday. I tweeted:

17 Dec: I’m going to start online CogMed training,see if we can get my working memory to, uh, work. Step 1: schedule it. W #braininjury not done yet.

Cogmed. Round 1. Oh. My. God. My forehead crushed then: got my highest score on the very last exercise. 8 on Reverse Numbers! 😯 #braininjury

Cogmed cool down: Zootopia (English voices; French text Netflix). Still hv concentration headache tho pumped completing day 1. #braininjury

Dec 19: Cogmed Day 3: improve on prev 5 working memory training exercise but the 1 I forgot the instructions for. Ha! 3 new exercises. #braininjury

Dec 21: So an astounding thing happened at brain biofeedback: my HRV went up to 4!!! My heart rate dipped into 70s briefly! Holy f—! #braininjury

Cogmed Day 4: I suck at Sort. Numbers are my friend. Um, number of Assembly levels barely fit on screen already. Yikes! #braininjury

Dec 22: Cogmed Day 5: 3D Doom doomed. That rewarding sound à la The Game silent too much. But then picked up w rest of exercises.Phew. #braininjury

Dec 23: Cogmed Day 6: crash breathe! Coffee! Eggnog! fight breaks out twixt eyes & brain Somehow I improve. 😳👏 #braininjury #eyesurgery

On Day 7, I hit a wall, a mental wall like the famed runners wall. I’d only taken Tuesday off my first week and launched right into week two. My coach said to take either Saturday or Sunday off since I’d done my 5 days in the week and could afford the time off. Plus I needed it.

I felt good after Christmas Eve family service. Loads more energy than some days! I didn’t want to do Cogmed on Christmas Day after all, now the idea of a day off had been presented to me, soooo…

I was good in the first 12 minutes or so. I positively zipped through the early exercises compared to Friday. I even did slightly better on 3D cube of Death, um, Doom. But in the third-last exercise, my best one — Hidden — with only 2 or 3 tries left in it, I hit the wall. Brain stopped working. Totally. Oh-oh.

It would take hours to recover, I knew. But I had two more exercises to do. OK, I’ll run on instinct, I decided. That worked for Rotating Wheel of Joy — unbelievable! But for Numbers: complete miss. I got a few “Close” ones, meaning I missed only one number on each try — apparently Close is good because it means I’m pushing — yeah, no kidding. But no hits at all, wow. So glad I have 3 days off! It’s going to be optimal training from now on: always training me at the upper level of my memory. If I get one or two hits for every miss, I’ll be lucky. But a pushed brain is a brain that improves!