Number problems after brain injury

Being not so great at mental arithmetic is pretty common these days, and it’s probably the calculators fault. (Or at least that’s what my parents told me as I was growing up.) So the calculator was only allowed to be used when checking calculations after you had finished. Making sure you had the right number as your answer.  My parents believed that the calculator had been as bad for that part of our brains, as the car had for our legs. Humans were allowing machines to do the hard work for them. Seeing as I have never been athletic, I’m a big fan of the car. I opted to engage my brain more so I could not be labelled as completely lazy.

Number problems after brain injury

Being taught to enjoy mathematics.

Even as a young child I took to arithmetic pretty well. If my Mum gave my sister and I some change to buy ice creams at the beach, my older sister would pass the coins to me once she thought we were out of sight.  She was 3 years older than me, and I couldn’t even reach the window to pass the money to the person in the ice cream van. But she knew I was better at adding up the cost and subtracting that from the money we had. If she was given a £5 note I was defunct, as she knew they would use the till to work it out and she only had to take the change that they gave her.

I’ll admit it, I enjoyed this. It’s unusual that as that stage, when 3 years is a significant age gap that the younger sibling is quicker with mental agility. And I knew it. Yes that probably made me a brat, but I was proud of myself.

Every weekend my parents would set us the same spelling and maths tests that they had devised. Although it was laborious at times, because I was often successful and beat my sister, I actually quite enjoyed them.  I didn’t have to tell my parents I was good, as they could see the evidence themselves. And long journeys in the car would be peppered with quick fire multiplication questions. In a heart beat I would shout out the number with joy, enjoying seeing how fast I could be.

Sorry, wrong number.

So my relationship with figures was pretty good. Some people can be intimidated by them, but I was the opposite. After my brain injury, I had to accept that my arithmetic had been affected. Seeing as I couldn’t count backwards for a longtime I realised I would have to work on it. That’s OK, I had already seen that by regularly exercising my brain it could improve. Therefor I wasn’t immediately alarmed or deterred by this.

Number problems after brain injury

But something more complicated was happening. If someone read out a telephone phone, I would write it down wrong. I know we all do this from time to time, so again I tried to remain calm. What was even weirder though, if I have a number in mind, I could say something completely different. I may or may not notice. For example I could be searching for something to buy within a set budget say £30. Sometimes due to exchange rates or discounts items aren’t rounded to the nearest pound. So if I came across something labelled as £27.62 I might say £34.86, which makes it sound too expensive. But in my mind I understand it’s £27.62 and have no idea why I said something else.

What’s the time Mr Wolf? Not what you thought it was.

And this issue with identifying numbers goes further. For a while I kept getting confused about the time. It didn’t matter if I was looking at an analogue clock, or a digital one. I would still think I had read it as something only to end be confused how later on the present time would turn out to be hours earlier than what I had previously read. This became really difficult and I had to force myself to take more care over it. Instead of just accepting the number I thought I had read, I had to engage logic to see if that made sense. Like if I had seen the 6 O’clock news earlier it wouldn’t make sense if I thought I now read the time as half past 4.

Number problems after brain injury

Whilst in the modern world there are many tools to assist with mathematics and time, it’s still frustrating. Yes I can still get by fine, but I miss being that little kid in the back of the car. I wish it was as easily getting a new spark plug to make my spark bright again. But I will keep working at it. If you are struggling to motivate yourself to keep trying, it might help to read Conquer motivation after brain injury.

Other articles you might like:

Have you noticed you aren’t as good with numbers and figures now? Or does it not matter because of all the available tools these days?

Following my brain injury arithmetic has become a problem & struggle coordinating my mouth to my brain. Why do I say a different number than I intended?
How I now struggle with mathmematics and numbers in general since my brain injury

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8 Replies to “Number problems after brain injury”

  1. I have the same problem, but I was never any good with numbers. Keep mixing up appointments, uneven numbers in particular 13, 15 and 17 are more or less impossible.

    1. Yes dates are an issue for me too! I have to check things so many times as I so regularly make stupid mistakes.

  2. Oh numbers we can’t escape them! I recently started a job processing mineral samples and had to work on them in numerical order, when I first started I was forever checking and re checking which sample I had to work on, now 6 months later its first nature to me, it must be the practice of doing it repeatedly. As for time I like to keep a constant check on it for some reason. I now have trouble when it comes to programing a programmable timer, I have to sit down with a piece of paper and write down the on and off times required l cannot imagine the times in my head and therefore cannot program the timer without my “cheat” sheet

    1. I do this when I have to set an alarm for getting somewhere early in the morning, appointment, on time. I start by writing time I must be there then work backwards (can’t do this in my head as easily before): must leave by X, must allow extra 10 mins if poss = less stress/allows for running late/traffic jams (yes I can drive!), then X time to allow me to have breakfast, wake up (VERY slow in mornings), decide/prepare food for later because I’ll be too tired. then see what time I must get up = 2 alarms. Sometimes if noisy outside (my home has paper walls) in night I put earplugs in but I HATE them (and they fall out) and can’t if must hear alarms.

      Therefore I HATE all appointments at a particular time and especially before 10.30am. But often people/places refuse to accommodate my needs or put me down when I DO turn up but haven’t slept nearly enough, I’m PROUD to turn up EVERY time but especially after too little sleep = to fit in with THEIR times = as we with brain injury must do SO much = adapt to THEM. Should be the other way round and they fit into OUR needs – but you try telling them and they say ‘you’re too demanding’, ‘you expect/want too much’ and ‘you exaggerate what you want and just SAY it’s what you need’ = all so wrong and so cruel. If only they knew how our lives REALLY are = thank you for writing about it Michelle and for EDUCATING!

  3. Yes, I too was very good with numbers and mental/maths (and doing in my head) before but now I get scrambled and exhausted by them. Sometimes when in shop I can’t think which coins to get and don’t notice/know if change I’m given is right = often EXHAUSTED in/after shopping.

    Now even when I write sums down and try to do them I make really stupid mistakes and keep getting different answers. Also sometimes I can’t think what the sum must do is: divide by or multiply, it varies. SUCH hard work now (as lots is) that was SO easy before my brain injury. It upsets me plus the fatigue from doing it makes me sweat with stress, get cross, get sad then often cry coz have overdone it. AND I have to eat more because the brain=work with broken brain uses far more energy! I get very cold/shaky after maths+ until I eat = low blood sugar?

    I sometimes turn up for appointments at wrong time: done it at least twice arrived ONE HOUR before = why?! I hate having to be somewhere at a particular time = mega stress. I have to watch clock all the time and sometimes it stops (time doesn’t move) but other times it goes SO fast and I’ll be late.

    Yup: numbers – and bit of dyslexia words/letters and not remembering how to spell words I always knew – and meanings, often not sure now so have to look up. Constant daily (for life now?) nightmare! Maybe if we’d got early rehab we’ be doing far better now? And pushing my brain too hard now breaks it = I fall to bits then cry with exhaustion. Like a muscle: brain gets broken if misused/over-taxed and over-stressed then it works even worse = EVERYTHING even more difficult: DON’T push us TOO much nor too fast and when I cry, say STOP = they must! But often I don’t realise until too late = still, after 11 years.

    1. Yes I too have got appointments wrong. I have turned up on the wrong day AND the wrong time! Who knows what my brain thought it was doing. I think it just wanted to embarrass me.

  4. I can still do approximations of averages and correlations in my head as they are visual to me. But to reach conclusions for others to review requires details. My work involves a lot of mid-level algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and some simple statistics.
    My Brain Injury was foreshadowed I was doing some simple database type counts and kept getting column & row entries transposed. An hour later I was on the way to the hospital.

    While I am greatful for the abilities I do retain like concepts come easier since that day, I have to constantly revisit all the basics for equations and graphs which used to simply be available from childhood memorization. While I tell myself it is great brainwork… I cannot understand why I have lost the ability to memorize these math rules especially as often as I use them.

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