My Memory and Balance Regained

Debb Joanis, Ashland

On a warm sunny day last summer, Debb Joanis was cutting grass on her riding mower, when she did something we’ve all tried at least once.

“I was cutting near a tree and I thought I could get around just one more time to cut the grass next to the trunk,” she recalls. But, while busy watching the blade, she forgot to duck beneath a large branch. The next thing she knew, she was on the ground.

At the time, she didn’t think much of it. She felt ok and while she had hit her head, she didn’t black out or have a headache. But, as the day and week went on she started to notice things weren’t right.

“I started to notice that my balance was off and that if I tried to read much, I’d start to feel sick,” Joanis says.

After 1-week, she noticed things were getting progressively worse so she visited her physician. She was referred to a neurologist and immediately had some imaging of her head done. It was then she learned she had suffered a concussion. As part of her rehabilitation program, she began seeing a physical and speech therapist at Memorial Medical Center.

“By this time, I was really struggling with my short term memory,” Joanis remembers. “I was having a hard time finding words or remembering conversations I had just had with people.”

Physical Therapy Bernadette Mattila worked with Joanis on her balance, which she was able to regain somewhat quickly.

Meantime, Memorial Medical Center Speech Therapist JoAnn Cahill, MA/CCC-SLP worked with her on cognitive skills such as memory tests, relearning parts of speech and helping her with day-to-day scheduling. This included putting together a simple binder that not only included her mind exercises, but also her daily schedule and even a log to help her recall whether she had returned phone calls or not.

“At the time I had post-its all over the house helping me remember things,” Joanis says. “This planner organized my life and is helping me recover.”

This is one of many tools Cahill uses with her patients that are customized based on their situation.

“Patients often need support at home in helping them organize their thoughts, remember activities and begin to retrain their brain,” Cahill explains. “In each case, I take time to assess the patient’s needs and where they are struggling most to develop a custom approach to their care. In Debb’s case, this included a binder that laid out her day and helped her compartmentalize her exercises and activities that would help her recover.”

Another tool is educating people about the severity and long-term recovery time of a head injury.

“I often hear people diagnose themselves with a mild concussion, like it is no big deal,” JoAnn Cahill explains. “What they don’t realize is a concussion is trauma to the brain and that trauma should always be taken seriously.”

For Joanis, she’s learning that progress is slow but she’s slowly moving towards regaining the skills she can and adapting to what she’ll need to change moving forward.

“I don’t think people realize how long the process is going to take,” she says. “I keep working at it everyday and while I continue to see progress, I’m so grateful to have the Rehab Services Team of MMC right here in-town. They are wonderful and have helped me get back to everyday living.”

Learn more about our comprehensive Rehabilitation Services Department here.