Memory difficulties often happen after a TBI. Past memories or long-term memories are nearly always intact but recent memories, such as immediate and short-term memories, may be affected to a greater degree than long-term memories.

Short-term memory may get worse as fatigue, pain, and psychological problems increase. Over time, short-term memory usually improves if other factors are not contributing.

Memory compensation means learning to use memory tools, such as a calendar, planner, organizer, memory notebook, or icons on an electronic device to help compensate for memory loss or lapses. Signs with instructions, lists, and notes are other effective memory compensation tools.

Ask the healthcare team about which memory tools would be helpful for the service member or veteran. These tools may also be helpful to you.

What might you see?

  • Difficulty remembering information from day to day about people, conversations, places, events, appointments, dates, and telephone numbers
  • Misplaced or lost items, such as keys, wallet, purse, etc.
  • Repeating questions or telling the same story over and over again
  • Difficulty learning new information and using it in everyday life

How can you help?

  • Get the person’s attention before trying to teach, do, or discuss something with them.
  • Break new information down into categories or smaller bits of information. This will help the family member to understand and process each piece of information better. List and review them in order.
  • Set up a routine of daily tasks and follow it.
  • Help the service member or veteran use memory aids on a regular basis. Write tasks on a calendar, notebook, or in an electronic device. Check tasks off when done.
  • Explore use of memory aids, such as alarms on a wristwatch or cell phone, as reminders for tasks, including things such as taking medication. Before obtaining these devices, ask the occupational therapist or speech pathologist for recommendations on which technology might be most useful in the service member or veteran’s situation.
  • Use a pillbox and label each compartment with the time and day that medications should be taken. Write the names of medications into the calendar or memory device, as well as the time and date to take them. A picture of the medication may also be helpful.
  • Keep personal and household items in the same place.
  • Try to pair new information with things the person is able to recall (for example, “John, meet Bill. He works at the same store where we buy groceries every week.”).
  • Provide verbal cues for recall and help fill in memory gaps (for example, “This is a pie made from apples, one of your favorite fruits.”).
  • Talk to the service member or veteran about the activities and events of the day to help build memory.
  • Have the service member or veteran review plans, appointments, and activities for the next day.
  • Learn and use a cueing system (for example, using a note by the door as a reminder to turn off the lights when leaving a room).
  • Present information in multiple ways. Each person learns differently – some by hearing, some by seeing, some by doing, and some by a combination. Be prepared to try various ways of presenting information, especially with new tasks or in new environments.