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Thinking and memory changes


After a brain injury, memory loss may be mild (like sometimes forgetting a name) to severe (when you can’t remember something that happened a few seconds ago). Some people may make up a silly or strange story to fill in gaps of their memory. This is called confabulation which is a normal process in the recovery after a brain injury.

A brain injury doesn’t affect all types of memory. Many people can still learn new habits and routines so they can do more things on their own.

The rehabilitation team will test all types of memory, including:

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

Immediate and recent memory tends to be more affected by a brain injury than remote memory. Recovery from memory changes is often slow. These changes may not completely go away. But there are ways to cope or make up for changes in memory.

Information and tips for family and caregivers

Problems with memory can affect progress. If someone has trouble remembering things, they’ll have a harder time learning from new experiences. Or they may not remember that they’re making changes or doing better.

This can have a huge impact on rehabilitation. In therapy, they may learn ways to walk, use equipment, communicate, and think. If they have trouble remembering what they’ve learned from one day to the next, therapy may only make a small amount of progress.

The following tips can help you support someone who’s dealing with changes in memory after a brain injury.

  • Put clocks and calendars around the house and in their room. Mark today’s date on the calendar.
  • Encourage them to use a journal, notebook, or electronic device (like a smart phone or tablet) to keep track of important information. They can use this to write down dates when family and friends visit and things they do. Make sure they always keep it in the same place.
  • Download a music app or radio station on their phone or tablet or put a radio so they can listen to music and hear the news and time. But don’t keep it on all the time as this can make them tired.
  • Follow a routine or schedule at home. Put the schedule in a place where it’s easy to see, like on the fridge, dry erase board, or bulletin board.
  • Remind them of the time, names of people, appointments, and other things. You may find it works well to give this information when you’re chatting with them.
  • Gently remind them of correct details of past and present events. Check with others to make sure the information is true.
  • Use short sentences and simple words when you talk to them.
  • When giving new information, repeat it often and write it down for them to look at. Have them repeat new information back to you to help them understand and remember it.
  • Suggest they use a voice recorder so they can go back and listen to a conversation or other information. Most smart phones and other electronic devices have a built-in voice recorder.
  • Do activities that you know they can do, like playing cards.
  • Put them in situations they’re used to or that are part of their routine.
  • If they have a lot of trouble with their memory, you can buy safety devices that shut off stoves and other appliances automatically.

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