Types of Memory that May be Damaged from Traumatic Brain Injury

fractal mushroomAlthough it is easy to understand that traumatic brain injuries can damage memory, few realize the complexities of the damage. It is often difficult for loved ones to understand how a brain injury can leave some types of memory untouched while causing serious damage in other areas. However, the human ability to remember information is not limited to a single brain area.

Memory is a fragmented and complex net of components. By understanding the separate components, it may be easier to understand why your brain-injured loved one can only remember certain kinds of information.

Sensory Memory

Sensory memories, such as remembering what chocolate tastes like, are stored in various sections of the brain. Each type of sense (taste, touch, sight, smell, sound) is stored in another part of the brain. Emotions associated with certain songs, events, images, etc. are stored in yet another part of the brain. Even sounds can be stored in different sections, as the brain separates language from other sounds. Depending on the part of the brain injured, certain types of memories may not be retrievable.

Short-Term Memory

This type of memory is sometimes called “working memory” or “immediate memory.” It lets us remember information immediately after it is presented. A healthy mind can hold seven bits of information in working memory. The memory stays for just a few seconds or a few minutes, and is then forgotten.

When a traumatic brain injury damages short-term memory, the patient has trouble learning new skills because he or she cannot recall instructions. Short-term memory also suffers when concentration and attention are impaired. These problems are common for those with traumatic brain injury.

Long-Term Memory

Sometimes called “remote memory,” long-term memories are those from the past. All memories begin as short-term memories and are then stored for the long-term. Brain-injured patients have excellent recall for past events, but have a hard time learning new things. This is because the short-term memory is often damaged, not allowing information to stay in the memory long enough to become a long-term memory.


Those with traumatic brain injury commonly have problems with retrograde amnesia and anterior grade amnesia. When the patient forgets events that took place just before the injury occurred, it is called retrograde amnesia. Usually, only a short time is lost, such as a few hours or minutes before the trauma. However, some patients can lose months or even a year of memory.

Anterior grade amnesia refers to memory loss immediately following traumatic brain injury. Depending on the severity of the damage, a patient might not remember events immediately following the injury. Sometimes they cannot recall anything except the last few weeks of the hospital stay.

When you understand these memory problems, it becomes easier to see why loved ones can remember some things but not others. A patient may recall detailed information about events from five years ago, but many not remember simple instructions given two minutes ago.

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If you or someone you love suffers from traumatic brain injury, contact our office. Our expert attorneys will provide a free consultation to help you decide if you should file a claim for damages.

One thought on “Types of Memory that May be Damaged from Traumatic Brain Injury

  1. Martha chaney

    Daughter on bike, hit by motorist in la jolla, ca. Coma for 3 weeks @ Scripps hospital. teaching assistant @ UCSD.

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