Memory after a brain injury

Memory after a brain injury

McKay Moore Sohlberg, Ph.D.

Survivors of traumatic brain injury often have changes in memory. This tip card has information on various types of memory, corrects myths about memory after head trauma, and gives strategies to compensate for changes in memory after TBI.

Item: MEM
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Full Description

Explains the basics of how traumatic brain injury memory works and why it may be affected by a brain injury. Helps families, survivors, clinicians and therapists understand the different types of TBI memory. Includes clear definitions and examples of how each type of memory is used in everyday life. Section on myths and facts about memory corrects the most common misinformation about memory after traumatic brain injury.

There are tips for survivors, caregivers, therapists and families that show how to use strategies for managing traumatic brain injury memory problems at home and in the community.

Item MEM
Pages 8
Year 2007


McKay Moore Sohlberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Sohlberg is a nationally recognized leader in the field of traumatic brain injury and cognitive rehabilitation. She has developed the Attention Process Training Programs for Adults and is the author of a leading textbook on Cognitive Rehabilitation.

Dr. Sohlberg received her master’s degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences and her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at the University of Washington. She is currently professor in the Communication Disorders Program at the University of Oregon. She conducts clinical research aimed at developing and evaluating methods to help adolescents and adults manage cognitive changes after brain injury.


This tip card helps...

  • survivors, therapists, clinicians, and familie understand different types of memory
  • correct common myths about memory
  • lessen the effects of memory problems.

Memory Basics Concept 1: There are different types of memory and they rely on different systems within the brain.

  • Episodic memory
  • Semantic memory
  • Procedural memory
  • Retrograde memory

Memory Basics Concept 2: Memory is not an island.

Memory Basics Concept 3: Many people with severe memory impairments learn or relearn information best when it is presented "errorlessly" rather than by "trial and error" learning.

Myths and Facts about Memory

Myth 1: My memory will not get better if I use my memory book because I won't exercise my brain.

Myth 2: My husband only remembers what he wants to.

Myth 3: It is best to have a person "try" and encourage the person to "think" about a target memory fact, rather than help supply the information.

Myth 4: A person who won't use or abandons a strategy or system is not cooperating and not trying to get better.

Managing Memory Problems

  • Tips on teaching strategies and organizing the environment…
  • Tips on using errorless learning approaches…
  • Tips on making information meaningful…
  • Tips on examining your expectations and setting priorities…




Sample excerpt. Preview only – please do not copy.

Managing Memory Problems

This section has tips for survivors, caregivers, therapists and families with strategies for managing memory problems at home and in the community.

Tips on teaching strategies and organizing the environment…

These suggestions help reduce demands on a person's memory system. It is important to consider an individual's specific circumstances, the environment where the person lives, and personal preferences. Is the environment noisy or calm, organized or chaotic? Do the recommended strategies fit the way the person lives and interacts with others? What does the person think might help the most to carry out daily goals? Fitting memory strategies into a person's daily routines reduces the risk of forgetting and helps a person do more. Here are some examples of ideas. Their success will depend on finding a good match for the type of memory issue and the person's abilities.

  • Create a communication center at home with a calendar and message space where everybody can check on what is going on and when.
  • Organize office or kitchen space to store items and equipment. Create a place for everything. Label drawers or cupboards. Store items in assigned places.
  • Check to make sure that everything is where it is supposed to be on a regular basis.
  • Identify a memory system. This might be a planner with a daily to do list, a personal digital assistant (PDA), or a pager system that cues specific tasks. Make sure that the system chosen works for the person who will be using it. Some people do better with PDA's than paper. Other people find PDA's too complicated. Some people like a digital memory wrist watch. Fit the system to the person.
  • Write down and post the steps or create checklists for specific tasks or activities such as laundry, grooming, or bill paying. Do this in locations where these activities occur. Post prompts of what a person needs to do around the house or work site so the person knows where to go to do the task.
  • Use a backpack or tote bag to carry items needed for the day's activities. Put a checklist by the bag and keep it by the door. Remember, establishing a routine is key.
  • Make a video or album with a personal story and include the person in its development. Encourage the person to refer to it regularly to help orientation.
  • Reduce distractions whenever concentration or memory is required. Turn off the television and radio. Clean off the work space. Let people do one thing at a time.

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