What is the Connection Between Brain Injury and Memory?

Erin J. Hill

The primary connection between brain injury and memory is that traumatic injury to the brain can lead to memory loss. This can include both long and short term memory. Most of the time this is temporary, but sometimes permanent brain damage can result. The severity of memory loss and the type of memories which are affected will depend on the location and seriousness of injury.

Memories are stored within the brain, however the process by which they are retrieved is still not entirely understood.
Memories are stored within the brain, however the process by which they are retrieved is still not entirely understood.

Patients with a traumatic brain injury and memory loss generally suffer from this loss immediately after the incident. It does not occur gradually, although sometimes it can come back in bits and pieces over the course of many days or weeks. This sometimes occurs as the initial injury begins to heal and swelling goes down, but there are cases in which patients may continue to forget certain memories long after the injury occurs.

Brain injuries may cause memory loss.
Brain injuries may cause memory loss.

In instances where brain injury and memory loss are temporary, the patient may only forget the events which took place during or right before the injury. This is often caused by severe swelling, and memory often slowly returns. Sometimes the nerves in the brain are permanently damaged, and patients forget things which occurred long before the injury. Occasionally, these memories may not be lost due to brain damage but they may be suppressed because they were traumatic for the patient.

Severe head injuries can cause lasting post traumatic amnesia in some cases.
Severe head injuries can cause lasting post traumatic amnesia in some cases.

Although less common, some patients suffering from brain injury and memory loss remember events which took place before the injury, but they cannot recall the injury itself and they can’t process or obtain new information. It is not know why this occurs, and it is generally associated with very severe injuries. There is usually no cure for memory loss following a brain injury. Some patients may recover, but it is normally due to their brains developing new ways to process information.

Damage to the brain's right hemisphere can have a detrimental effect on memory and other critical cognitive functions.
Damage to the brain's right hemisphere can have a detrimental effect on memory and other critical cognitive functions.

Those who have a brain injury may do exercises to jog their memories, although this is not always effective. They may also have to re-learn common every days tasks which were second nature to them before the injury. Sometimes patients do not cope well following a brain injury and memory loss, so psychological and behavioral problems can arise. Severely brain damaged patients may be permanently disabled.

A combination of brain specialists, physical therapists, and counselors may be needed to allow for the best results after brain damage has occurred. Most damage is not reversible, but some skills can be relearned, at least partially. Patients may also develop new ways of doing tasks to fit their new skill levels.

Traumatic injury to the brain can lead to either temporary or permanent brain damage.
Traumatic injury to the brain can lead to either temporary or permanent brain damage.

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