TBI 101: Memory Problems

Brain Injury Basics: Thinking and Cognitive Symptoms

“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night,” says Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, who in the world am I?”

Sometimes a traumatic brain injury can feel like falling down a rabbit hole, or being trapped on the wrong side of a looking glass, especially in the first days or weeks of recovery. You feel different; you are not sure who you are — the most daunting aspect of all these changes is the fact that you are having trouble with your memory.

What is memory?

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

How can TBI affect memory?

Confusion is very common for people in the early recovery phase of a brain injury. They may not remember events that happened immediately before the injury or events from their hospital stay. As they recover, people who have memory problems typically have more difficulty with remembering recent events or learning new information (recent memory), rather than forgetting their identity or events that occurred in the remote past (remote memory).

What can make memory problems worse?

Other symptoms from brain injury can exacerbate memory problems, including:

Memory problems are not only frustrating, but they can also be dangerous. They can impact people’s whole life — from interfering with their work or home life to affecting their ability to drive a car or take care of their children. It’s important for people to talk with their doctor about their memory, especially if the problems change or worsen.

Even after the “acute” recovery phase has passed, people with TBI can continue to have problems with their memory. They may forget details from conversations or have trouble remembering names, appointments, or basic procedures like doing the laundry. For some people after a TBI, their problems with memory never resolve; they may need to use tools or strategies to make up for the loss.

Strategies for remembering

Types of memory problems differ depending on each injury, but here are some general strategies to help:

  • Write everything down — keep a notebook, mobile device or a PDA with you at all times to remember what you have to do.
  • Use signs, labels, or cue cards, or iPhone or Android smartphone apps to remind you where objects are located.
  • Keep a “cheat sheet” of important information in your wallet.
  • Buy appliances that turn off automatically.
  • Use a pill organizer to organize your medicines.
  • Get enough regular rest during the day.
  • 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 a family member take notes during meetings with your doctor or healthcare provider.
  • Break down new information into small parts. Learn the small parts instead of trying to learn everything at one time.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Keep a journal to record your progress, your thoughts.

Don’t go it alone

Living with memory problems after a TBI can be challenging, but unlike Alice from the famous children’s book, you are not in a rabbit hole or on the wrong side of a looking glass. Work up the courage to tell your family, friends, and colleagues that you have issues with your memory. That way they won’t get frustrated and angry with you if you forget important information or miss meetings, and they’ll also be able to help you establish effective strategies to make your life easier.

Posted on BrainLine June 21, 2017.

Comments (10)

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.

Im 38. I just found out within the last week that the truth about my frontal lobe injury 25 years ago... has not been told to me. I've been in therapy and on meds for years for "being bipolar". Thought I was going insane for YEARS and was terrified to tell my shrink what was really going on because she'd send me to the hospital. Then I got the MRI results. You don't understand. I was 13 when I jumped off the back of a 4 wheeler at 55mph, no helmet, landed on the back of my skull first then my neck and back. Coma for a couple of weeks, then they had to induce a coma for some more time, I'm not sure how long. It has been 25 years. And I've been wondering how long it was gonna take somebody else to figure out I wasn't lying when I kept saying something was BAD wrong with me. Nobody listens to me. I have to figure out how to wrap my mind around all this ALONE. Which, by the way, I. Cant. Do.

Hey Anonymous, You're not alone, there's tons of FB Groups for Brain injury where u will find like minded individuals who are on the same path as you, and would gladly support you on your health journey. I myself am one of those people, and look forward to seeing u on the other side, the healing side. (FB is FaceBook, btw. Just go FB, groups, and search brain injury, and join groups that u like, after filling out join information, and that's it. It usually takes a few days for the admin/moderator to review your application to join, and ur in!)

Read the Jessica account last night. Thank you caring person who posted what you witnessed. I have lost my love because of writhing to get free everynight I thought he was crazy and called him delusional and a mean liar.
Thirteen surgeries 2 hospitals 1 induced coma plus a special Ketamine.diet. I have been like this for at least 7 months, Trying to put the time line and flashes of insight into perspective. To discover what is going on in the potholes.

Be careful who you tell about your injury, about your bad memory. Do not let people take advantage of you. Not everyone is your friend. Be your own best friend. Record what you can. Build trust with someone and or a short few, keep them close.

That’s right.

The Brain Injury ReHab facility my daughthter was in made memory books/binders they carried around until the didn’t need them anymore. Pictures of family friends pets places of importance....was great. She could look up the answers she didn’t know. Different chapters for different info.

Just like the article says, "Keep a “cheat sheet” of important information". This article can be considered one of those cheat sheets-it's something to refer back to as a solid refresher of some of the basic tools for your memory belt. Brain injury or not. I found this article helpful and will be saving it in my "favorites" (my online cheatsheet).

I was in a head on collision that caused my TBI. The best thing that's helped me because I now have poor balance was my doctor doing surgery on my eyes to correct the eye muscles.

I found this brief article helpful.

Good info.
As a survivor myself, it was nice to review the information and see that I'm employing most if not all of the memory aids.
Also, the description of the memory troubles is me to a T.