Brain injury can affect the way a person thinks, learns and remembers. Different abilities are located in different parts of the brain, so some may be affected, while others are not.
Some of these issues are more significant at the early stages of recovery when the person is distracted with medical issues and the high level of activity in the hospital. However, in some cases the changes can be permanent.
The following are some common challenges:
Difficulties with attention can include:
Speed of processing
After a brain injury, some people process information or think at a slower rate. Sometimes it looks as if the person does not understand or is not going to respond to what is said to them. However, they may be able to respond if they are given time to process the information.
Memory and learning
Memory is easily damaged by brain injury because there are several parts of the brain that are involved in processing, storing and retrieving information.
Although the degree and nature of memory impairments varies in each situation, there are common patterns.
Often the person with a brain injury has a good memory for past events or previously-learned material (e.g., family members, where they worked, the family pet's name).
Short-term memory loss is the most common and troublesome type of memory problem. Examples of this are: forgetting what has just been said; having difficulty in learning a new skill; repeating the same question over and over; forgetting people's names; getting details mixed up; forgetting a change in routine; and forgetting where things have been placed.
There is no magic answer to improve this type of memory problem, but rehabilitation can help a person cope by teaching strategies to make up for the memory loss (e.g., written reminders, log books, established routines).
Planning, organizing and sequencing
People with brain injuries can experience difficulties with planning, organizing information or sequencing things to get a task done.
A person sometimes has difficulty breaking down a task into the individual steps that are needed. As a result, the task can be overwhelming. For example, the person might want to phone a friend to arrange a visit, but the steps of finding a phone book, looking up the number, and deciding on the time and place to visit may be too much for them.
Strategies can help. For example, breaking the task into individual steps and providing cues to the person on how to complete each part of the task.
Brain injuries can affect a person's ability to communicate. Communication is not just speaking. It is also communicating through gestures, body language and written language.
Language problems following a brain injury vary and may include:
Sometimes people experience difficulties with the social aspects of conversation such as taking turns, generating ideas, reading social cues, and recognizing facial expressions in themselves or others.