Brain Exercise To Improve Communications After a TBI

The start of a new year can bring new possibilities and relationships into your life after a brain injury. This article is about using an effective brain exercise to improve your conversations with people. It will hopefully help you have more effective conversations, meet new people, and deepen relationships in the new year.

Difficulty Communicating After a TBI

After a brain injury, do you have difficulty communicating what’s on your mind or following what people say? Do you avoid talking with people because you don’t know what to say in conversations?

These are common concerns for brain injury survivors. If you have these concerns, they can shrink your world because you may limit interactions with people.

One of my clients recently said that she avoids people outside the family because she worries that her communication struggles will “make me look stupid.” That is such a strong, negative concern she places on herself. She is not stupid or any other negative label she uses, and neither are you.

Most communication challenges after a brain injury can be the result of your mind’s struggle to:

  • Follow and remember what you hear in one-on-one or group conversations

  • Avoid feeling overwhelmed by background noise or sensory overload

  • Interpret non-verbal information

  • Identify the thoughts or feelings that are appropriate to communicate in the moment

  • Use the right words and concept organization to clearly say what you think and feel

  • Pronounce words so others understand

Knowing What To Say

Many brain injury survivors say that they can follow most of a conversation but can’t think of anything to say in response. During a conversation, your mind needs to generate a quantity of ideas to communicate, then pick the best ones to mention in the moment. The more ideas or thoughts you can generate, the more flexible you will be to use the appropriate one to communicate. If you have only one idea to express, it may not fit the conversation. However, if you have more than one potential idea, your mind has more ideas to choose from in conversations. This mental process is called Idea Productivity.

Idea productivity is the total number of ideas someone can naturally generate in their minds for any topic. It is the first step in the creative process (conversation is a creative process, like art) before people choose the best idea to use. People who have high idea productivity are good at thinking on their feet because they can generate many potential options to respond to conversations.

Brain Exercise To Generate Ideas To Communicate

If you have low idea productivity after a brain injury, you need more time and prompts to come up with ideas to communicate. The brain exercise called the Idea Generator can train your mind to generate a larger quantity of ideas to choose from for conversations.

Here are five steps to exercise a brain injury survivor’s idea productivity. The exercise is explained as if it is being administered by a family member or friend to a brain injury survivor. This exercise is based on the work of The Highlands Company.

Step 1: Get five sheets of blank paper and draw one of the following shapes on its own individual sheet: straight line, circle, square, triangle, and spiral. Have the shapes fill up the entire sheet.

Step 2: Show the person doing the exercise one of the shapes and ask him or her to verbally tell you what else the shape can be other than a geometric image. Have the person think of as many options as possible. For instance, the square can be a wrapped present, window pane, computer screen, wallet, table, chair, platform shoes, or photograph. Don’t worry about the number of ideas generated initially. Getting them to start thinking differently is the key.

Step 3: After the person runs out of ideas, you can provide clues as prompts. Give them time to think but don’t cause any frustration.

Step 4: Do this exercise with as many of the shapes as the person can tolerate without getting fatigued or frustrated.

Step 5: Repeat this exercise 3-4 times a week. It’s okay if the person repeats the same ideas. The ultimate goal is to increase the list of ideas over time as he or she gets better at generating ideas. You can also add more shapes (or rotate the line and triangle) to make the exercise more fun.

Get Started Today

If you or someone you know needs to improve their communications, get started by doing the Idea Generator exercise today. You can also contact me at 804-337-1884 or