How does brain injury affect memory?

Memory is often affected when someone suffers a brain injury because several parts of the brain are involved in forming and accessing memories. Damage to any of these can affect the way the memory functions.

Our understanding of how the brain stores and retrieves memories is still evolving, but the effects of brain injuries on a patients’ ability to remember are well known. In this article, we will look at those effects and some common strategies for helping brain injury sufferers to cope with memory issues.

The effects of a brain injury on memory

Depending on the area of the brain affected by an injury and the severity of the damage, the memory can be impacted in various ways. This damage can either be temporary or more lasting and patients may see some degree of improvement over time, even where a full recovery in not possible.

Common memory problems experienced by brain injury sufferers include:

  • Struggling to remember things that happened immediately before and after their brain injury
  • Difficulty recalling new information after a delay or distraction
  • Problems learning new things, including information and skills
  • Difficulty forming new memories
  • Issues with short-term memory, but not long-term memory

However, people with memory issues caused by a brain injury may:

  • Have normal or near normal immediate memory i.e. be able to repeat back a piece of information straightaway after they learn it
  • Perfectly remember skills from before their injury
  • Be able to remember information if given a clue e.g. the first letter of a name

The difference between retrograde and anterograde amnesia

Current understanding is that short-term memories are stored in a part of the brain known as the hippocampus, while long-term memories are stored in a different part of the brain, called the cortex. This means that if just one of these parts of the brain is damaged, it can leave a person with perfect recall of things that happened a long time ago, but difficulty remembering things from the immediate past, or vice versa.

Problems with memory loss from after the injury – where the hippocampus is affected – are referred to as anterograde amnesia, while loss of memories from before the injury – where the cortex is damaged – is called retrograde amnesia.

Retrograde amnesia commonly affects memories from a few minutes up to a few months from before the accident. Anterograde amnesia can be temporary or permanent and can present a serious on-going problem for those affected.

How to deal with memory issues due to a traumatic brain injury

There are various strategies that can be used by people with memory loss, their loved ones and carers to make their lives easier.

These strategies generally fall into 4 main types:

  1. Developing tactics to aid recall, such as creating organised lists, which are often easier for a brain injury sufferer to remember.
  2. Adapting their environment to minimise the difficulties caused by a person’s memory issues.
  3. Using external memory aids, such as notes, and mobile phones for key information.
  4. Creating set routines for them to follow, minimising the possibility for confusion.

Many people with memory issues will need the help of professional carers to help them to live independently. The cost of this support, along with making any necessary adaptions to the patient’s home, can be expensive. This is why many people who suffer memory loss due to a brain injury will pursue compensation.

If you or a loved one are experiencing memory problems due to a brain injury that wasn’t your fault, whether due to an accident, assault or any other reason, you may be able to make a compensation claim. A specialist brain injury solicitor will be able to advise you on the strength of your claim and how much compensation you are likely to be able to get, so it is well worth seeking such advice if this issue is affecting you.

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