The world of apps has opened up new opportunities for people recovering from TBI to cope with memory problems. Smartphone and tablet computer applications are proving to be worthy assistive technology options for memory compensation following TBI.
In many cases, people already own wireless mobile devices, making installing apps to customize and increase the functionality of a device fast and affordable. However, with countless new apps added every day, sorting through them and finding one that is well matched to a person's needs, abilities and preferences can be challenging and time consuming.
Storing Contact Information
Tools to recall and organize contact information - phone numbers and email addresses - typically come preloaded on wireless devices.
Several apps can enhance the use of these contact tools. Bump allows users to share contact information including photos, phone numbers and email addresses by bumping two devices together. CardMunch can scan a business card and convert it into a contact in the user's address book, allowing for fast, accurate entry.
Emergency contact apps provide the ability to quickly retrieve critical contact information, making an emergency phone call fast and simple. Emergency contact apps include Unus Tactus, which can also send an email to an emergency contact with a map link showing the location of the user. ICE: Emergency Contact or ICE Alert both include the ability to store basic medical information (e.g., allergies, blood type).
Note-taking & Tracker Apps
People with TBI often use note-taking as a strategy for recalling information. Notes tools that often come preloaded on wireless devices can record factual personal information and provide instructions on how to check email or perform a therapeutic home exercise program. Devices that have a camera also provide the option to record step-by-step instructions using photos or video.
Evernote is an integrated note-taking app that allows users to take notes and record information through typing, voice-recorded memos, photos and videos which can be organized and synced to multiple devices, as well as shared through email. Inspiration Maps uses graphic organizers with notes to visually map out ideas. Corkulous, a virtual corkboard, can also be used for note-taking because it allows people to organize ideas and information using text and photos.
Some note-taking apps are designed to record or track very specific types of information, assisting people with managing a variety of personal and medical needs. Water intake trackers and reminders include iDrated and Water Tracker. Additionally, apps like Total Baby or Feed Baby can help parents record a detailed log of their baby's care, such as feedings, naps and diaper changes.
The use of to-do list style applications can be helpful with both memory and planning. Calendar tools often come preloaded on wireless devices and can be expanded by installing to-do list apps. The options range from simple lists that allow a user to check off tasks when they are completed to more complex versions which allow lists to be categorized and prioritized with alarm reminders. Some also sync with a calendar or other devices.
Text-based to-do apps include Air ToDo and GoTasks, Remember the Milk, Pocket Informant, gTasks, Astrid Tasks & To-do List, and Tasks and To-Do with Alerts. Several to-do apps rely on voice and pictures rather than text, increasing access for people with limitations in vision or language. For example a voice to-do list can be created in VoCal, an app that sends alert reminders in the form of voice recordings, and a picture list can be made with Pic List by taking pictures or drawing items and organizing them into lists.
Some to-do style apps remind a user to perform one specific task. For example, Pillboxie allows people to visually manage their medications and schedule reminders to take medications. Similar medication management apps include Rxmind Me Prescription, Med Minder and Pill Reminder which also provides reminders to refill prescriptions.
Pet owners can receive alerts with Feed Me to remind them to feed their dog, as well as perform other pet care tasks such as giving medications or grooming. Financial management apps, such as Bill Tracker or Bills Reminder, send alerts to help people remember when their bills are due.
Using an App Matrix
Selecting the right app requires more than simply knowing the options available. Apps should be selected based on how well their functions and features match the needs and abilities of the user, taking personal preferences and available resources into consideration.1,2,3 But with so many options to help people cope with memory problems, remembering details about the functions and features of each app can be challenging for clinicians.
App selection can be made easier by creating a matrix-style chart using spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel. When creating an app matrix, the apps can be listed and categorized by memory function (i.e., the need they can fulfill) including a brief description, the cost and the operating platform.
The features can be listed in columns and checked off as they apply to each app listed within a given row. Some of the features of memory apps to consider for accessibility and functionality include the input method (e.g., text, dials and voice), the output method (e.g., text, pictures and voice), alarms (e.g., vibrating, visual, auditory or voice alarms, simultaneous message display, and snooze or echo features), push notifications and cloud synchronization.
Once selected, successful implementation of memory apps often depends on the success of the training. Training should be based on evidence-based methods, such as errorless learning or strategy based instruction, which have been proven to be successful procedural training methods for people with TBI who have memory problems.3,4,5,6,7 Final steps in training may include creating a routine for using the app, establishing a device or app maintenance time and providing caregiver training.
Tracey Wallace is a speech-language pathologist at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where she specializes in the provision of post-acute services to adolescents and adults with acquired brain injury. She has published and lectured nationally on outcomes, functional interventions and use of technology in rehabilitation after brain injury. She can be contacted at 404-603-1484 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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4. Ehlhardt L, et al. (June 2008). Evidence-based practice guidelines for instructing individuals with neurogenic memory impairments: What have we learned in the past 20 years? Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 18(3):300-342.
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6.Powell L, et al. (2012). Systematic instruction for individuals with acquired brain injury: results of a randomised controlled trial. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 22(1):85-112.
7. Svoboda E. (June 2012). PDA and smartphone use by individuals with moderate-to-severe memory impairment: Application of a theory-driven training programme. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 22(3):408-427.