Memory and Brain Injury

The University of Washington TBI Model System and the University of Washington Medical Center
Memory and Brain Injury

What is memory?

“Memory” is your brain taking in, keeping, recalling, and using information. A brain injury can affect any of these areas of memory. A brain injury can also make it hard to learn and remember things.

Why does a brain injury affect memory?

A brain injury often damages parts of the brain that are needed for taking in, storing, and retrieving information. A brain injury also can make pre-injury memory problems worse. But some of these new memory problems will improve with time.

What happens with memory problems?

Some people with brain injury have a hard time remembering past events such as a telephone message or conversation. It can also be hard to remember future events such as an appointment. People might forget things they need to do during the day. While everyone forgets some things sometimes, people with memory problems forget things more often. They may also forget specific types of information. Most times, long-time memories about family and childhood are not affected.

What can make memory problems worse?

  • Lack of sleep or being tired.
  • Poor health.
  • Some medicine side effects.
  • Stress or illness.
  • Strong emotions, such as anxiety, depression, or anger.

When should I ask for help with memory problems?

Talk with your health care provider if:

  • You have a sudden change in your memory.
  • Your memory is getting worse.
  • Your memory problems make you unsafe.
  • Your memory problems are affecting your work or home life.
  • Your memory problems are affecting your ability to care for yourself or your family.
  • Your memory problems are affecting your health.
  • You feel like you need help from a memory specialist.
  • Family or friends are noticing you have a memory problem.

What can I do about memory problems?

Try a suggestion from this list and see how it works for you. Give it a good chance to work before you try a new idea.

Use reminders:

  • Write information in one place, such as in a journal or calendar. Little sticky notes can get lost easily.
  • Make a journal or photo album to help remember things that have happened in the past.
  • Make a daily log of the things you have done each day.
  • If you live with other people, label items that are yours so you can find them more easily.
  • Keep a “cheat sheet” of important information in your wallet.
  • Use signs, labels, or cue cards to remind you where objects are located.
  • Use a checklist to remind you of the steps of a task, or a list of items, such as what you need to take when you leave the house.
  • Use checklists to help you remember what you have done.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Buy appliances that shut off automatically.
  • Use a pill organizer to organize your medicines.

Set a routine:

  • Have a plan for each day and each week so you remember important things like taking your pills and going grocery shopping.
  • Have one place for each thing in your house and always put it there.
  • Use a calendar and post it where you will see it often. Check it every night before you go to bed so you know what you are doing the next day.
  • At the end of the day, check off the day on your calendar to help you remember what the date is.

Let someone else remember:

  • Ask your bank to automatically pay your bills or get a protective payee to help handle your money.
  • Use different kinds of signals throughout the day to remind you of appointments or other activities. For example, use a TV or light timer, program an electronic organizer or cell phone, or use a beeping watch.
  • Have a family member take notes during meetings with your doctor or health care provider.

Learn more effectively:

  • Break down new information into small parts. Learn the small parts instead of trying to learn everything at one time.
  • Think of ways to connect new and old information.

Where can I learn more about memory?

Ask a professional:

  • Your doctor or health care provider.
  • Your psychologist.
  • An occupational therapist or a speech and language pathologist. They can give you ideas on ways to make the most of your memory.

Check out these resources

Brain Injury Association of America
8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 611, McLean, VA 22102
Brain Injury Information Hotline: 800-444-6443

Brain Injury Association of Washington
3516 S. 47th Street, Suite 100, Tacoma, WA 98409
Helpline: 800-523-5438

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
706 Haddonfield Road, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002

National Brain Tumor Foundation
22 Battery Street, Suite 612, San Francisco, CA 94111
Patient Line: 800-934-2873

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Greater Washington Chapter
192 Nickerson St., Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98109

National Stroke Association
9707 E. Easter Lane, Englewood, CO 80112
800-STROKES (800-787-6537)

Alzheimer’s Association
225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, IL 60601
Helpline: 800-272-3900

National Parkinson Foundation
1501 N.W. 9th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136-1494

Posted on BrainLine June 19, 2009.

Comments (7)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I am 22 I have had short term memory loss sense I was a child, I feel as if my memory is getting worse and it scares me. I am on my own working and paying for my self. I have a hard time keeping friends I don't normally remember them or I have to group people into "types" that way I can try to keep track of what kind of person they are. This is a normal process for me but lately I have had trouble remembering anything. Even when I make a phone call I will forget that I typed in the numbers and will walk away from my phone. Im sure that is more confusing for the other end of that call then for me. But I'm not sure what to do about it. I have look into therapy but is that the right avenue? I have yet to talk to my doctor mainly I don't know how right now to do that. Its hard when you don't know your doctors name.. I don't really bow what I can get out of this but I hope someone has some pointers. Thanks..

Hi Don, I have short term memory loss too, sometimes I can forget what I'm doing, while I'm doing it. So, for me, if I can involve more senses, it helps me make the memory stick, so if, for example, I'm feeling peckish, i go to the kitchen in search of some munchies, b4 i go, i say, outloud (to myself) "I'm going to the kitchen to find something to "healthy" to eat" and then with every step i repeat outloud, eat eat eat, until i find it. But on my "bad day's" I do all that, but also write a note to myself, and hold it, and repeat, it outloud, until I find it, and it also serves as a record of what I've done.
So, think it, say it outloud, read it, until it's done, involve more senses to make it stick.
Also, when on the phone or in actual doctor's appointments, especially on a "bad day" I let them kno I have a brain injury, and am having a "bad day" and am processing audio slower than usual, I have to write things down or I'll forget, but I record and transcribe our conversation using an app called as while I listen slower, I still can read, faster, and with the app, transcribing on the fly, I can read and keep up in the conversation, plus I'll have the recording for later to review everything that was said. Also, i have to preplan the appointment with a checklist, and check it off as i go.
So, see it, say it outloud, write a note, checklist, check it off as i go, so i have a record of what was done, and also have an audio recording of what was said so I can refer back to it. If I'm on the phone, I put my phone on speakerphone, and record the conversation on another phone, or my laptop. a little cumbersome, but it works for me. Also, the free version of only records for 30 mins so i have to set a timer/alarm for 29 mins, and hit stop and record again, when that timer goes off. It still records, but stops transcribing, which is the whole point.
So, on ur good days, write it out, ur system of remembering, so on ur bad days, u just follow the system and don't have to try so hard to remember what u were doing.
I hope that helps

What is the outcome of TBI when a person doesn't want help

My husband had two concussions as a teenager. Now he is 63 and is forgetting things in a daily basis. How can I help him?

I have had short term memory loss sense I was a child. I have no memory prior to my accident. So I can tell you how I normally cope with memory loss. I have found that I retain a lot more memory then I can access so the trick is giving you as many ways of accessing the memories. Its like a google search you need to have key words to look up to narrow down the search. So when I am reading a specific book I will only lesson to one song the hole time. That way when I lesson to a 4 minute song I can access the memory of the hole book. I know this is frustrating for most around you. I mean no one will won't to lessen to one song for that long. but there are other ways you can cope like through sent, light a candle during a task. one of my most used methods is action I will work out and lesson to a book on tape. I will also try strings on my fingers when I need to go out for a task. I hope this is somewhat helpful..

Memory is extremely hard to understand. Cognitive remediation will allow for it to be properly diagnosed...

Regarding the idea of memory, there is the fictional movie - Limitless - 2011 which is about the fictional memory drug: NZT-48; there is also the movie, Memento (2000), about a short term memory glitch. For a few persons (not everyone), coffee - FDA approved caffeine compounds can temporarily improve small aspects of some kinds of memory for a few persons (not everyone). There also are much stronger drugs available like Adderall, Ritalin, etc. Generally speaking, for persons with epilepsy, stimulant medicines tend to lower the seizure threshold/change how seizure meds work; however, there are exceptions in the field of epilepsy including a small number of reports where persons say stimulants, for them, work better than traditional epilepsy medicines. Memory and brain injury - it's a large topic. Most reports about memory changes are simply reports of loss of memory; only a few reports link the right medicine to a temporary improvement in memory for a handful of people (aka reports of memory improvement after brain injury due to using the right medicine are real but very rare). That's my understanding.