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Selecting the Right App When You Have a Brain Injury

Categories: Living with Brain Injury

By Michelle Ranae Wild, M.A., Making Cognitive Connections

Have you ever thought, “There are so many apps – how do I choose?” With well over a million mobile applications in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store, it’s no wonder. Let’s start with some interesting statistics and then explore some questions you might want to ask as you search for apps.

It’s amazing that 81% of mobile phones are smartphones! That means most of you probably have a smartphone of some type. Whether you have an Apple or an Android device, there are some key things you should consider before you choose an app:

  • What do you want the app to do and why?

Living with a brain injury is a daily challenge. You may be struggling with self-regulation, memory, and/or executive functioning issues, such as planning, organizing, strategizing, and time management, all of which affect you in your everyday life – at home, school, and work. You will want to look for apps that specifically address some of these challenges, such as a calendar app that helps you see when you are double-booking yourself, an app that helps you manage your energy, or an app that helps you identify and track the strategies you use and rate how effective they are in various situations. It’s important to identify your struggles and to find apps that can help address these issues. Before you download an app, you can review app-related information provided in the app store, such as a list of features, user reviews, and some app screen captures. This information can be very useful in figuring out if certain apps will help with the challenges you’ve identified.

  • Where did you hear about the app or who recommended the app? Does the person understand brain injury?

You may hear about apps from friends and family members because they have heard about an app or they use it themselves and like it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the app will work for you. You also might get a list of apps along with brief descriptions from a service provider or clinician. These lists can be very helpful because these professionals know about brain injury and may be able to provide some direction as to how you could benefit from an app.

  • How does one app compare to other similar apps?

There are often multiple apps that do the same thing. For example, you could download literally hundreds of different note-taking apps. The problem is that people download multiple apps that do the same thing and either (1) end up with information in many different places, which becomes an organization and memory nightmare; or (2) end up with too many apps on their home screens and can’t find what they need, also a nightmare. Instead, compare similar apps recommended by reliable individuals and choose one that meets your needs. Give each new app a chance – you’ll need time to use it and practice with it to know if it’s going to work for you.

  • Is there training available?

One of the best ways to learn to use an app is through trainings or tutorials. Look for online training available through the app developer, YouTube videos, blogs, and webinars. These options, however, may not meet your needs because they tend to be fast, incomplete, and overwhelming for persons with brain injury. Instead, look for trainings and blogs available through rehabilitation professionals who know how to use apps and understand brain injury. It is important to get lots of focused practice with the app during training so you can learn to use it effectively in your everyday life.

  • Does the app have staying power?

Be sure to consider an app’s “staying power” before selecting it. It’s not always the latest apps that are the best; in fact, sometimes new apps may not last long in the marketplace and as a result can negatively impact the user. Apps that get frequent updates may also be difficult to work with as you will sometimes have to re-learn to use them. Some factors associated with “staying power” include:

  • How long has the app been around?
  • How frequently is the app updated?
  • Does the app add new features or only fix bugs?
  • Does the look and feel of the app stay the same across updates?

Here are a few other things to consider as you make decisions as to which apps to download:

  1. Don’t be fooled by “free” apps. There are indeed free apps; however, many of them require “in-app purchases” to get the functionality you really need.
  2. Beware of ongoing subscriptions. More and more apps are moving to subscriptions. This means that you pay either monthly or yearly for the app, which makes it much more expensive in the long run.
  3. Use one app for many things. If you find the right app, it can be used for a variety of purposes so that you end up learning one app and using it in various areas of your life. For instance, a good note-taking app can be used to record audio, take notes in a class or meeting, create a shopping list, create a task analysis, save files, etc.

There are many benefits to using smart devices as cognitive prosthetics after an injury. They can help you with memory, sequencing, planning, organization, and lots of other cognitive tasks. However, due to your injury, you will want to look for apps that are practical, easy to use, and applicable to many aspects of your life. They should also be accessible, convenient, not visually overwhelming, and should have a consistent user interface to eliminate confusion.

Hopefully the questions above provide you with a place to start as you look for apps that can help after your brain injury. The apps below can help with many of the executive function issues you deal with on a daily basis:

  • BEST Suite – three apps in one: PaceMyDay, ReachMyGoals, and StrategizeMyLife
  • Notability
  • Inspiration Maps
  • Week Calendar

The cost of all these apps is less than $35.00, yet you’ll be surprised at what a difference they will make in your life!

This article originally appeared in Volume 12, Issue 4 of THE Challenge! published in 2018.