Memory Loss After a Concussion
Doctors characterize concussions as mild brain injuries because they rarely cause death. But concussions can still cause physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms that disrupt your life and interfere with your ability to work.
One of these cognitive symptoms is amnesia. This symptom is not exactly like you see on TV and in movies. Most often, accident victims experience only limited amnesia. But this level of memory loss is still a very noticeable condition.
Here is an overview of memory loss and related cognitive effects after a concussion.
What is the Function of the Brain and Skull?
Your brain commands your nervous system. Your nervous system, in turn, controls your body. The brain sends commands to your muscles and organs through nerves. Your brain receives information about your body’s state and the environment from your senses. Your brain uses sensory information to decide which commands to send.
The brain processes and stores information. Scientists do not know exactly how memory works. But the brain stores memories by activating connections in the brain and strengthens these memories by reinforcing the connections.
The brain retrieves the memories by retracing those connections. These processes explain why you may often feel that one experience reminds you of another experience. The brain encoded those memories similarly, so recalling one memory will also recall the other.
Your brain floats inside your skull. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding your skull has a viscosity slightly thicker than water. This allows the CSF to cushion your skull and slow its motion.
Without the CSF, your brain would rattle around inside your skull if you got hit in the head or stopped or turned suddenly.
Because of the CSF, your brain sloshes inside your skull when your body experiences the forces involved in an accident. This sloshing is safer than rattling because the CSF stops your brain from hitting the inside of your skull.
What Are Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)?
When your brain impacts the inside of your skull, you can develop a brain contusion.
Bleeding in the brain causes several problems:
- Brain cells die from a lack of oxygen
- Blood pools and squeezes the brain
- Dead brain cells trigger swelling
These effects make a brain contusion one of the most serious brain injuries you can suffer. A contusion causes structural damage to the brain and can lead to coma or death.
Compared to a contusion, a concussion is a mild TBI. But this merely means that concussions do not cause:
- Structural brain damage
A concussion happens when the brain does not strike the inside of the skull but instead gets stopped by the CSF. In stopping the brain from hitting the skull, the CSF exerts pressure on the brain.
This pressure can damage brain cells and trigger brain inflammation. The increased temperature and swelling that characterize inflammation cause the brain cells in your brain to misfire or temporarily shut down.
When these brain cells go haywire, you experience physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms, including:
- Dizziness and nausea
- Ringing ears
- Blurred vision
- Memory loss
- Emotional outbursts
These symptoms develop slowly over the hours and days after the concussion. As new brain regions shut down or misfire, new symptoms can emerge.
Concussion symptoms usually last two months before clearing up on their own. If they last more than two months, you may have post-concussion syndrome.
What Types of Memory Loss Can Occur After a Concussion?
Many concussion patients develop some amnesia. Amnesia happens when the brain has trouble encoding or retrieving memories. This amnesia can take several different forms, including:
Memories Immediately After the Accident
Immediately after the accident, you may have trouble remembering. But this might not necessarily arise solely from amnesia. It could arise from the combination of amnesia, confusion, and brain fog that often happen immediately after a concussion.
Doctors use several tests to rate the severity of a concussion. If you have seen a professional athlete suffer head trauma, you may have seen the most frequently-used test — the Glasgow Coma Scale.
A doctor rates the severity of an accident victim’s concussion using three observations:
- Eye-opening response
- Verbal response
- Motor response
This test includes questions to measure the patient’s ability to remember, think, and speak.
Some common questions used to evoke a verbal response include:
- What is your name?
- What day is it?
- Where are you?
When a patient gives the correct answer, the patient has a mild concussion. When a patient gives a confused or incorrect answer, the patient has a moderate concussion. When the patient misuses words, makes sounds but cannot form words, or cannot answer, the patient has a severe concussion.
Memories of the Accident
The most common manifestation of amnesia in concussion patients surrounds the memories of the accident. Many patients cannot remember how they got their concussion or the events before and after the accident.
There are a few reasons this can happen:
- The concussion interrupted the brain in encoding the memories
- The brain cannot retrieve the memories due to the damage suffered
- The brain has blocked the memories to avoid reliving the trauma
The last reason often characterizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In extreme cases, this automatic defense mechanism might cause other symptoms like panic attacks, emotional outbursts, and depression, in addition to memory loss.
Short-Term Memory Loss
Some concussion patients experience ongoing short-term memory problems. Among the forms of amnesia that can come from a concussion, this one has the greatest potential to cause long-term disability. This can happen due to damage to the part of the brain that encodes and retrieves short-term memories.
Short-term memory stores information for a few seconds to a few minutes so you can process it or use it.
Short term memory problems can lead to difficulties at school and work, such as:
- Learning disabilities
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Difficulty retaining new information like names
As a result, this type of amnesia can interfere with your ability to earn a living or train for a job.
What Compensation Can You Seek for Memory Loss After a Concussion?
Injury compensation after an accident will depend on the severity of your injuries. Memory loss related to mental trauma, like PTSD, or brain damage that affects the short-term memory centers of the brain can justify substantial compensation. These forms of amnesia can interfere with both your finances and your enjoyment of life. Contact Hasner Law, PC for a free consultation to discuss the damages you might seek for memory loss after a concussion with an Atlanta injury attorney.