Whether or not we’ve had a brain injury, most of us can’t remember all the things that we need to remember – we have to come up with some systems to help us.

Understanding Memory after Brain Injury

*Long-term memory: older information (from your childhood, last year, before your accident etc.) – this is usually safe

*Short-term memory: new information (from over the last day, week etc.) – this is usually where difficulty lies after brain injury

How do we remember things? Click the tabs below for more information on each of the stages of memory.


Paying attention to new information. You actually have to be awake, alert and able to take in information. It is easier to pay attention when you are interested.

Improving attention:

  • Remove distractions
  • Take regular breaks
  • Make an effort to listen carefully

Taking the actual information and making some sense of it.

Improving encoding:

  • Simplify the information
  • Make sure you understand the information. If you do not, ask the person to repeat it

Storing or “putting” the information somewhere.

Improving storage:

Repetition (e.g. Saying a person’s name three times within a short space of meeting them)

Sometimes we can retrieve information without any help (free recall), but sometimes we need some prompting (cued recall or recognition). For example you might not be able to remember someone’s name but if you’re told what letter it starts with you can remember it, or if someone tells you their name you recognise it as being the name that you did know.

Improving retrieval:

  • Make sure you have an idea in your mind of the context (place, time and who was there) when trying to recall information
  • Mentally retrace the events leading up to the thing you want to remember

Whether or not we’ve had a brain injury, most of us can’t remember all the things that we need to remember – we have to come up with some systems to help us.

Forming habits is how we make life simpler – it saves us from remembering what to do.  Following a brain injury routine needs to become your friend!  For all your daily tasks, try to do the same thing in the same way every time.

It works best if we have “a place for everything and everything in its place” – setting up good habits around where you put things e.g.

  • Keys on the hook by the door
  • Diary, wallet and phone in my bag
  • Pills by the toothpaste so that I remember to take them when I brush my teeth


Writing things down 
We need a way of storing the information that is important like phone numbers, appointments, birthday s and to-do lists

  • Organizers
  • Diaries
  • Electronic devices such as on many phones

Work out with others how they can help you in a way that won’t annoy you
You might need to be reminded about little things – to take medication, to switch the stove off.  Some people find it helpful to work the phrases (words the other person will say) out together so that you don’t feel like you’re being treated like a child or told off.  This can also be helpful for if you are starting to get irritated with people and need to be prompted to have a rest.

Frequently asked questions about memory:

Why can’t I remember the accident or even some of the time before the accident?
In the time just leading up to the injury you were likely to have been taking in information normally. But the injury meant that the information was not stored. It’s like having a power cut when you’re working on the computer and the last bit of information that you were working on gets lost. This means that people with a severe brain injury also don’t remember some of what they were doing just before the injury. You may have lost a few hours of time.

This loss of memory in the time immediately before the injury is called retrograde amnesia.


I also don’t remember much about being in the hospital.
After the injury there’s a period of post-traumatic amnesia (PTA). You probably do remember being asked the same questions each day by an Occupational Therapist or nurse. You tend to come out of this time of amnesia gradually.

Severity Ratings:

Glasgow Coma Scale Post Traumatic Amnesia
Mild 13 – 15 < 24 hours
Moderate 9 – 12 1 – 6 days
Severe 3 – 8 7 days or more

I don’t think have a problem with my memory because I still remember lots of things from the past.
Apart from the retrograde amnesia that occurs around the time of the injury, most people do not lose significant chunks of their past memories. The difficulty is with learning new information.