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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Stroke and Short Term Memory

Published February 8, 2016 9:03 AM by Debra Karplus
Though more of a lark than a night owl, and seldom staying awake late enough to enjoy late night television, I remember in the early 1990s people were talking about one of the comical characters on NBC's popular show Saturday Night Live, Mr. Short Term Memory. On some online lists, Mr. Short Term Memory was considered one of the show's most memorable characters. I believe a very young Tom Hanks played that character, a man who remembered very little from minute to minute. Viewers found this to be very funny.

I recently became friendly with a man, probably in his mid-sixties. He appears to have much energy, rides a bicycle around town, swims regularly, has seemingly healthy living habits, and is reasonably trim in terms of body build. He has the agility, coordination and dexterity to perform many of his own home improvement projects with ease. But if you talk with him for a bit, you might start to notice that something is clearly amiss. Though he speaks well and is fairly articulate, his ability to remember the names of people, even those he knows fairly well, seems notably impaired as is his ability to name some common places and objects. 

Recently, he shared with me that he had suffered a stroke in his late 40s that he attributes to being overly-stressed at that time in his life. Though he does not seem cognizant of the fact that he clearly has some memory issues, and some form of aphasia or agnosia, he does admit to being disorganized at times, which, let's face it, is a problem for many or even most adults and children.

As I have gotten to know him better, I have learned that in recent years his job history has been "shaky," and even with a Master's Degree he has been let go from several jobs over the past several years. I feel uncomfortable asking Mike why he thinks that holding down a job has been such a challenge for him. Perhaps he will share that with me at some point in time.

I know that Mike has no current drug or alcohol abuse issues; I don't think alcohol use has ever been a problem for him. And again, I never asked him if he was a drug user or abuser like many baby boomers were in the 1960s, 1970s, and even beyond. If I had known Mike before he had his stroke, it would certainly be much easier to sort this all out, but I value our friendship and don't really need answers to any of this.

As we work with our patients who have suffered strokes, it is essential that we discuss with them, and perhaps more importantly with their families, what they were like before they had the stroke. It would simply make it easier to establish individualized goals that are realistic for the patient based on their premorbid condition.

I would enjoy hearing from other occupational therapy practitioners about their experiences with this subject.

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Thanks for reading and commenting, AL

..Debbie, article author

Debra Karplus February 16, 2016 8:46 AM

That was very nice post .....

laceybeck982 sharma, Aam aadmi party Punjab February 16, 2016 6:33 AM

Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle.

..Debra Karplus, article author

Debra Karplus February 9, 2016 8:18 AM

I found the book "Optimizing Cognitive Rehabilitation: Effective Instructional Methods" by Sohlberg and Turkstra to be a helpful resource in establishing and measuring progress toward personally relevant goals. As an SLP, I have worked extensively with memory issues, and love that we share this target with OTs! What you do requires effort both towards physical completion of functional activities AND the ability to recall the steps to be successful. That's a powerful motivation, because it is easy to see the relevance in daily life. Thank you, OTs out there! Michelle Underhill, MA, CCC-SLP Northern Colorado Therapy Services Fort Collins, CO

Michelle Underhill, , Speech-Language Pathologist Northern Colorado Therapy Services February 8, 2016 8:34 PM
Fort Collins CO

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