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Memory problems after a brain injury

Information Services

Cognitive effects

Memory problems after a brain injury

Memory problems are very common after a brain injury, especially issues with short-term memory.

Typical situations include forgetting people's names, losing a train of thought, getting lost at the shops, repeating or forgetting past conversations, misplacing objects and difficulty learning new skills. Common everyday experiences become a nightmare of confusion without strategies to manage or compensate for the effects of memory impairment.


Memory problems can occur with most brain disorders, but are particularly common with traumatic brain injury (TBI) as trauma makes it quite likely the parts of the brain responsible for memory are injured by bony protusions inside the skull. 


Lifestyle changes to improve memory

There is no "wonder treatment" for memory problems, however there are many effective strategies that compensate for short-term memory impairments. As with any cognitive issues, your memory will work better if you:

  • Avoid fatigue from pushing yourself too hard
  • Sleep well
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Avoid alcohol, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. 


Organize your environment

The aim is to arrange surroundings so that less reliance or demand is placed upon a person's memory. Strategies for organizing the environment include the following:

  • Keep a notepad and pen beside the phone
  • Using a large notice board on the wall
  • Having a special place to keep objects which go missing
  • Label cupboards as a reminder of where things are kept
  • Tie objects to places e.g. a pen to the phone or a key to a belt.


Short-term memory strategies

Reduce distractions as an inability to pay attention makes memory problems worse. Simply telling yourself to pay attention when you need to focus and memorize something can make a big difference. 


Learn in small repeated chunks in a similar way to how we teach children. Breaking it down into repetitive manageable bits makes it much easier to remember things. 


Mnemonics  are techniques used for memorizing information through acronyms, short poems, stories, images or memorable phrases. A typical example is the acronym KISS for 'keep it simple, stupid'. 


External memory aids are extremely effective compensatory strategies - they aim to compensate for memory loss. Try all of the following to see which ones work best for you:

  • A diary for storing and planning
  • Notebooks of all sizes for various places
  • Lists and checklists
  • Alarm clock, wristwatch alarm and timer on your mobile phone
  • Calendar or wall chart
  • Voice recorder
  • Electronic organizer
  • Pill reminder box
  • Post-it notes
  • A memory book for big events, personal experiences and names.


It is important to realize that not everyone will benefit in the same way from the same tips after a traumatic brain injury. The best thing to do is to experiment with different aids until you find the one that works for you.




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