Cognition After Traumatic Brain Injury – Changes in Memory With Tips for Compensatory Strategies

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Traumatic Brain Injury Can Change How You Think Traumatic Brain Injury

By Marilyn Lash

Many survivors have changes in cognition after a traumatic brain injury. These cognitive changes often mean that thinking is simply harder and takes longer. These are the changes that so often greatly concern survivors and families. They can affect everything from making a shopping list to returning to work. Some cognitive changes are so minor or subtle that only the survivor or close family members are aware of them. Other changes are obvious and significantly affect the survivor’s daily life, relationships, ability to work or go to school. Cognitive challenges are a major factor in determining whether a survivor can live independently, must rely on family for support, or needs a residential program for assistance and supervision.


Physical healing is much more predictable – and faster – than cognitive recovery. Memory is an area that is often affected by a traumatic brain injury. The ability to remember can affect just about every aspect of a person’s life. Challenges with memory can be frustrating and confusing, not only for the person with the brain injury but for family members and caregivers as well. Difficulty recalling information, events, people, and details is more than just missing appointments or forgetting names. It can jeopardize a person’s safety and affect both personal and professional relationships.

These are some common difficulties with memory after a brain injury:

  • Difficulty remembering people, conversations, places, events, instructions, appointments, telephone numbers, and dates
  • Inability to recall tasks from day to day
  • Gaps in memory gaps for events and conversations
  • Hard time remembering new information
  • Tendency to lose or misplace personal items
  • Trouble remembering when to take medications

Survivors, caregivers and family members have found that compensatory strategies can be especially helpful if they are used regularly. It also helps if everyone working with the survivor uses and reinforces the same compensatory strategies to avoid further confusion and conflicting instructions or cues. Here are some compensatory strategies that are useful when a person has difficulty with memory.

Tips on (“Traumatic Brain Injury”) compensatory strategies…

  • Record names of visitors or callers in a journal.
  • Use memory aids such as calendars, daily planners, and checklists.
  • Write down information and make lists.
  • Post visual reminders in key places such as mirrors, doorways, and entry or exit areas.
  • Repeat new information.
  • Have cues to help with memory recall.
  • Structure a routine for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and events.
  • Use alarms on watches or timers to cue when to do a task.
  • Use tape recorders.
  • Keep personal and household items in the same place.
  • Use medication organizers.

Marilyn Lash, M.S.W., Lash and Associates Publishing/Training, Inc. Books, pamphlets and information on the treatment, rehabilitation and recovery of traumatic brain injury in children, adults and veterans. For a tip card with more information on Cognition: Compensatory Strategies after Brain Injury by Dr. Flora Hammond, Tami Guerrier and Marilyn Lash, go to

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