Memory problems and brain injury | Bolt Burdon Kemp Memory problems and brain injury | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Memory problems and brain injury

Memory problems after a brain injury are incredibly common, but in some cases, frustratingly little is known about why they occur.

At the end of last year, American teenager Riley Horner made headlines all over the world due to the astonishing affect her brain injury had on her memory.

Riley, from Kirkland, Illinois, was accidentally kicked in the head at a high school event.  Initially it was thought she had suffered a mild concussion, but the severity of Riley’s injury became apparent when she began suffering from seizures and her family discovered the full extent of her injury.  Riley’s memory had been affected in such a way that it ‘re-set’ every two hours.  Not only was she unable to make new memories but she constantly woke up thinking it was 11 June, the day of her injury.

Riley described waking up every day and being shocked when she saw her calendar.  Her family would tell her the correct date, which she’d retain for up to two hours before her memory ‘re-set’ again.

Despite multiple hospital visits, medical professionals struggled for months to explain the exact cause of Riley’s condition or why it occurred.  MRI and CT scans on Riley’s brain showed no abnormalities and sadly, Riley and her family have no idea how long her condition will last.  Doctors were unable to say whether she will suffer permanent brain damage or suggest any potential treatment or cure.

Although Riley’s case is an extreme example, many brain injury survivors will experience some degree of memory problem following their injury.  This often manifests as difficulty retaining new information or ‘storing’ new memories post-injury.  This is known as anterior grade amnesia and occurs because new memories are ‘stored’ differently in the brain to memories from years before.

Riley explains that her experience is surreal and describes the thought of not making further memories as ‘terrifying’.  “I’m really confused, and I try to think back, but I can’t…I’m scared’.  Riley and her family have explained she wants reach out to other brain injury survivors who struggle with similar short term memory symptoms, so they know they’re not alone.

After her story hit the headlines worldwide, Riley began having treatment at Cognitive FX, a post-concussion treatment centre in Utah.  Amazingly, her treatment is progressing so well that she has been showing signs of improvement and even stored her first memory since her accident – she was able to recall that she was having treatment.

Sadly, not everyone will have as much success as Riley.  Whether or not a person will ever recover their lost memories largely depends on the severity of the damage inflicted on the brain.  Often, cognitive therapy can help individuals with memory loss, but each case is different and there are no guarantees.  Here is a video about Riley’s rehabilitation.

Memory problems can be a frustrating and disorientating effect of brain injury, and can lead to social isolation or a breakdown in personal relationships as the sufferer becomes increasingly withdrawn.  Headway, the brain injury charity, explains memory problems can destroy a person’s sense of identity and continuity.  The inability to remember events and emotions can leave people without a sense of the passage of time or of their own narrative and progression as a person.  This is on top of the everyday practical difficulties with planning and organisation’. 

Memory problems and problems retaining information can make pursuing a legal claim especially daunting.  At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we understand the unique challenges that brain injury can bring and work hard to support our clients throughout every stage of their claim.  We also have strong links with care workers, who we can recommend to provide everyday assistance and support.

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