Cognitive & Memory Issues

Cognitive & Memory Issues with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury is defined as a blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Such an injury often damages parts of the brain that are needed for taking in, storing, and retrieving information.

Individuals with a moderate-to-severe brain injury often have problems in basic cognitive (thinking) skills such as paying attention, concentrating, and remembering new information and events.

Some people with brain injury have a hard time recalling past events such as a telephone message or conversation. It can also be hard to remember future events such as an appointment. People might forget things they need to do during the day.

While everyone forgets some things sometimes, people with memory problems forget things more often. They may also forget specific types of information. Most times, long-time memories about family and childhood are not affected. A brain injury also can make pre-injury memory problems worse. But some of these new memory problems will improve with time.


Symptoms of cognitive issues related to a traumatic brain injury may include the following:
  • You may think slowly, speak slowly and solve problems slowly.
  • You may become confused easily when normal routines are changed or when things become too noisy or hectic.
  • You may stick to a task too long, being un¬able to switch to a different task when having difficulties.
  • On the other hand, you may jump at the first “solution” you see without thinking it through.
  • You may have speech and language prob¬lems, such as trouble finding the right word or understanding others.
Symptoms related to memory issues may include the following:
  • You may have a sudden change in your memory.
  • Your memory may get worse.
  • Your memory problems may make you unsafe.
  • Your memory problems may affect your work or home life.
  • Your memory problems may affect your ability to care for yourself or your family.
  • Your memory problems may affect your health.
  • You may feel like you need help from a memory specialist.
  • Family or friends may notice you have a memory problem.


The major cause is, of course, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Memory and cognitive issues stemming from a TBI may be further exacerbated by:
  • Lack of sleep or being tired.
  • Poor health.
  • Some medicine side effects.
  • Stress or illness.
  • Strong emotions, such as anxiety, depression, or anger.

Risk Factors

Previous history of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the major risk factor for related cognitive or memory issues.


A doctor will take a complete history and perform a physical exam. If more information would be helpful, a speech pathologist may do a cognitive screen. Further, neuropsychologic evaluation can shed light on areas of difficulty or dysfunction. Neuropsychologic testing can be a long and involved series of tests and activities that challenge the person with a brain injury to remember new information, recall stored data, and process or problem-solve in new situations.


There is safety risk for those with significant enough memory loss to make working in some settings dangerous.


The following list of self-care options may help with cognitive and memory issues related to a traumatic brain injury. Try a suggestion from this list and see how it works for you. Give it a good chance to work before you try a new idea.

Use reminders:
  • Write information in one place, such as in a journal or calendar. Little sticky notes can get lost easily.
  • Make a journal or photo album to help remember things that have happened in the past.
  • Make a daily log of the things you have done each day.
  • If you live with other people, label items that are yours so you can find them more easily.
  • Keep a “cheat sheet” of important information in your wallet.
  • Use signs, labels, or cue cards to remind you where objects are located.
  • Use a checklist to remind you of the steps of a task, or a list of items, such as what you need to take when you leave the house.
  • Use checklists to help you remember what you have done.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Buy appliances that shut off automatically.
  • Use a pill organizer to organize your medicines.
Set a routine:
  • Have a plan for each day and each week so you remember important things like taking your pills and going grocery shopping.
  • Have one place for each thing in your house and always put it there.
  • Use a calendar and post it where you will see it often. Check it every night before you go to bed so you know what you are doing the next day.
  • At the end of the day, check off the day on your calendar to help you remember what the date is.
Let someone else remember:
  • Ask your bank to automatically pay your bills or get a protective payee to help handle your money.
  • Use different kinds of signals throughout the day to remind you of appointments or other activities. For example, use a TV or light timer, program an electronic organizer or cell phone, or use a beeping watch.
  • Have a family member take notes during meetings with your doctor or health care provider.
Learn more effectively:
  • Break down new information into small parts. Learn the small parts instead of trying to learn everything at one time.
  • Think of ways to connect new and old information.

Related Treatments

  • Disability Evaluations
  • Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Rehabilitation Psychology/Psychotherapy