Memory Issues Years After Brain Injury

Ask the Expert: Research on Memory After TBI

My daughter still has significant memory problems even seven years after her TBI, which get in the way in her day-to-day life. Has any research been done on the best ways to help improve memory?


The good and bad news is that your daughter is not alone. As you probably know, memory problems are one of the most common issues reported after brain injury and can result in a host of everyday challenges such as remembering appointments, following through with promises, and having difficulty learning new material on the job or in school.

It's important to understand — although this can be painful — that we cannot "fix" a person's memory. What we can do is help her learn to focus on the information she is trying to recall and also help her organize that information to make it easier to remember.

To start, research tells us that people are more independent and successful in their recovery when they identify their own problems and are motivated to seek solutions. After all, we all know that to be successful using a Blackberry or DayTimer, we have to develop the good habits of entering or writing down the information and then remembering to look at it!

Studies have shown that for people with milder memory impairments, using specific memorization strategies can help reduce everyday memory failures. These strategies can include:

  • Rehearsal — For example, repeating a phone number over and over
  • Association — Linking up new information with something familiar. For example, "I have an aunt named Jane, too."
  • Visual imagery — Elaborating or focusing on the visual characteristics of what you're trying to remember. For example, if you've forgotten your grocery list, you could make a mental picture of your pantry to recall what's needed at the store, say, the coffee canister is low, the cereal box is gone, and there aren't very many cans of soup left on that shelf.

For people with moderate or more severe memory impairments, external aids such as a written to-do list or a personal digital assistant (PDA) are most effective. Devices can be programmed either by the person with brain injury or by a significant other, if needed. Everyday technology such as cell phones or pagers can be used to remind people to take medications, attend a meeting, or get directions home. The devices can be programmed to vibrate or beep at a pre-set time. When the person looks at or clicks the device, the reminder can be given in writing (like a text message) or spoken out loud (on certain devices).

More and more research is showing that everyday technology like cell phones, Global Positioning Systems (GPSs), and PDAs can be beneficial for people with brain injury. If you haven't already, you might suggest to your daughter that she see a professional who specializes in cognitive rehabilitation. This kind of specialist will be able to help her identify and implement strategies to help with her memory issues.

Reference List
Depompei R, Gillette Y, Goetz E, Xenopoulos-Oddsson A, Bryen D, and Dowds M. (2008). "Practical applications for use of PDAs and smartphones with children and adolescents who have traumatic brain injury." Neurorehabilitation 23, no. 6: 487-499.

Cicerone KD, Dahlberg C, Malec JF, Langenbahn DM, Felicetti T, Kneipp S, Ellmo W, Kalmar K, Giacino JT, Harley JP, Laatsch L, Morse PA, Catanese J "Evidence-Based Cognitive Rehabilitation: Updated Review of the Literature From 1998 Through 2002." (2005). Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Vol. 86, Issue 8, Pages 1681-1692)


Posted on BrainLine February 11, 2009.

About the author: Elaine Sherard

Elaine Sherard practiced as a speech-language pathologist and had various roles in the neurorehabilitation field for 25 years, including management and serving as President of the Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina. She continues as a consultant in the brain injury rehabilitation field as well as advocacy endeavors.

Elaine Phillips

Comments (1)

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.

Proper rehabilitation of the head injuries was given me by cognitive remediation classes in the Rusk Institute in Manhattan. I had made a copy of my poster to carry in my wallet. Went for neuropsychological testing in Manhattan and after many hours of testing and assessment...I was told I had a short term memory loss. I showed my index card with my true symptoms...long term memory loss, short term memory loss, memory deja vu, disorientation in time and date, impaired insight and judgment, you would need the proper rehabilitation for your head injuries...