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Changes After a Brain Injury

Changes in Memory

Losing the ability to make new memories can be a huge loss. Losing your memory can range from mild, like sometimes forgetting a name, to severe amnesia where something that happened a few seconds ago isn’t remembered. The person may make up a silly or absurd story to fill memory gaps; he isn’t trying to lie. This confabulation is automatic and unconscious.

Problems with memory can affect progress in all areas. If memories fade quickly, he won’t able to learn from new experiences or he may not remember that he’s making changes or improving. This can have a huge impact on rehabilitation. In therapy, the person is learning ways to walk, to use assistive devices, and to communicate and think. If the person has trouble remembering what he’s learned from one day to the next, treatment may bring only a small improvement.

A brain injury doesn’t affect all types of memory. Even when other kinds of memory are greatly affected, many people can still learn new habits and routines allowing them to become independent. During the assessment stage of therapy, different types of memory will be looked at. Therapists test memory for events that happened:

  • before the accident (remote memory)
  • in the past few seconds (immediate memory)
  • a few minutes, hours, or days ago (recent memory)

Immediate and recent memory tends to be more affected by a brain injury than remote memory. Memory recovery is often slow and incomplete, but there are ways to help overcome or make up for this.

Tips to help with memory

  • Have clocks and calendars around the house and in his room, and mark today’s date.
  • Encourage using a journal, notebook, or electronic device (for example, iPad) to record important information. When family or friends visit, write the date and activities in the notebook. These memory aids should always be kept in the same place.
  • Put a radio in his room so he can listen to his favourite station and hear the news and time. Don’t keep it on all the time as this can make him tired.
  • Follow a routine or schedule at home. Put it in a spot that’s easy to see, like the fridge or a dry erase board.
  • Remind him of the time, names, appointments, and so on. Try to add this information into your social conversation.
  • Gently remind him of correct details of past and present events. Check with others to make sure the information is correct.
  • Use short sentences and simple words when talking to him.
  • When giving new information, repeat it often and write it down for later reference. Have him repeat new information back to you to be sure he understands and remembers it.
  • Have him use a voice recorder (these are common on most smart phones or devices), so he can go back and listen to them again later.
  • Whenever possible, do activities that he is knows and can do—like playing cards.
  • People with memory problems do best in familiar and routine situations that don’t make them adapt to changes.
  • If his memory is very bad, you can buy devices that shut off stoves and other appliances automatically. This can help to prevent safety hazards.

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