Jason Stephens | April 1, 2021 | Personal Injury
A concussion can cause many symptoms. Memory loss is one of the most disturbing post-concussion symptoms.
Amnesia after a concussion may leave you unable to remember the car accident that caused the concussion. It may also persist long after the accident, affecting your ability to make and recall new memories.
Here are the things you should know about post-concussion memory loss and the ways that it may affect a claim for compensation after an accident.
Memory and the Brain
Scientists do not know exactly how memory works. But they have identified several structures in the brain that play a role in forming and recalling memories. We’ll explore some of these structures below.
The Cerebral Cortex
The cerebral cortex is a layer of brain tissue that surrounds the brain. The cerebral cortex handles many of the brain’s higher functions, such as language processing, reasoning, planning, voluntary muscle movements, and impulse control.
Scientists believe that the cerebral cortex — particularly two areas called the prefrontal cortex and the neocortex — stores memories.
The prefrontal cortex sits at the front of the brain over the eyes. This area stores short-term memories. New information or skills that you learn during the day are stored here until the brain moves them into long-term memory.
The neocortex stores long-term memories. Patients with damage to their cerebral cortex can form short-term memories but have trouble forming and recalling new long-term memories.
The hippocampus stores spatial memories. The hippocampus also helps the brain to organize memories for long-term storage and to move short-term memories into long-term storage.
The activity of the hippocampus increases during sleep when the brain consolidates memories and transfers them from short-term memory to long-term memory.
Damage to the hippocampus can inhibit a person’s ability to remember directions, names, dates, and events. Patients with a damaged hippocampus have difficulty making new memories. This damage may lead to a form of amnesia in which patients have memories from before the accident but not after the accident.
The amygdala attaches emotional significance to memories. This helps memories to last longer. For example, an incident in which a dog startles may cause your brain to associate dogs with a feeling of fear. A fear of dogs may then becomes a powerful reflex that the brain recalls instantly upon seeing or hearing a dog.
When an accident injures the amygdala, new memories can lack an emotional reaction. This weakens the memory and leads to difficulties recalling long-term memories.
In addition to these structures, the basal ganglia and cerebellum store memories of physical actions, including habits and movement sequences.
An example of the memories stored by the basal ganglia and cerebellum would include the sequence of movements to get dressed. Damage to the basal ganglia or cerebellum might leave a person unable to remember how to button a shirt, play a musical instrument, or hit a baseball.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur when a single, violent event damages the brain.
The event might cause:
- Tearing of nerve cells
- Pressure on the brain
- Brain tissue death
A concussion occurs when a traumatic event causes the brain to shift inside the skull. Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds the brain to cushion it from impacts. But a violent impact can cause the brain to shake so violently that the pressure of the fluid causes widespread, minor bruising of the brain.
A concussion causes mild damage when compared to a contusion, where the brain strikes the inside of the skull. But a concussion can still cause both short-term and long-term symptoms.
Short-Term Concussion Symptoms
Most people with concussions experience at least a few short-term symptoms. These symptoms may last for a few days up to a few weeks.
- Loss of balance
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Seeing stars
When diagnosing a concussion, a doctor, nurse, or EMT may administer a concussion grading test.
Health care providers use over 16 different concussion grading scales, but most classify mild concussions as those with no loss of consciousness and symptoms that clear up quickly. Moderate concussions involve no loss of consciousness and symptoms that persist. Severe concussions involve any loss of consciousness.
Long-Term Concussion Symptoms
A concussion of any severity can cause post-concussion syndrome.
Doctors do not know what causes post-concussion syndrome, but the most likely suspects are:
- Nerve damage
- Brain damage
- Psychological trauma
- A combination of the above
Post-concussion syndrome includes symptoms such as:
- Memory loss
- Fatigue or insomnia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Mood changes
These symptoms generally persist for a few weeks or more. Some may even arise long after the injury. For example, depression and PTSD may first appear several weeks after the concussion.
In most cases, the post-concussion symptoms clear up after about three months. Doctors cannot treat the brain directly, so they treat the symptoms to give the brain time to heal. For example, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to a patient suffering from depression and anxiety after a concussion.
Permanent Brain Damage
In some cases, a concussion can cause permanent brain damage. The bruising and swelling due to a concussion can cut off the blood supply to some areas of the brain. The lack of circulation in these areas causes the cells to die.
The brain has a limited ability to rewire itself around the damaged tissue. This ability, called neuroplasticity, takes time. As a result, memory loss and other post-concussion symptoms may persist for years or even for the remainder of your life.
Obtaining Compensation for Memory Loss After a Concussion
Compensation after an injury should include medical bills, lost income, and diminishment in earning capacity due to the injuries. Long-term memory loss after a concussion can increase your compensation considerably. Your medical treatment and mental therapy will last longer. You may miss more work. You may even need to take alternate employment.
Long-term amnesia after a concussion might justify larger non-economic damages. Non-economic damages, such as pain, suffering, inconvenience, and mental anguish, are designed to compensate you for the disruption caused by your injuries.
Because ongoing memory problems could substantially reduce your quality of life, you and your injury lawyer may have a powerful argument for a larger non-economic damage award.