Memory Loss After a Concussion
Doctors refer to concussions as mild brain injuries. Concussions will rarely cause death. They usually do not even cause long-term symptoms.
But you will experience physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms for several weeks after a concussion. These symptoms almost always include brain fog, confusion, and some memory loss.
Below you will learn how your memory works and why concussions cause at least some memory loss in many accident victims.
Table of Contents
How Does Your Memory Work?
Your brain controls your body. It sends out nerve impulses to move your muscles and keep your involuntary systems, like respiration and circulation, going strong. Your brain also collects sensory signals from the skin, eyes, nose, ears, and tongue to form a picture of its environment.
Most of these sensory perceptions go into short-term memory. Short-term memory operates like the RAM in your computer. It gets used briefly — usually for less than 30 seconds — then it’s erased.
As you navigate a store, for example, your short-term memory remembers there’s a product display in front of you so you can push your cart without crashing into the display.
When you learn something, you use your long-term memory. Your brain forms long-term memories by forming a neural connection. As you recall and use the memory, the connection gets stronger. As the brain strengthens these connections through repetition, you “learn” the skill or fact represented by the memory.
Using the same example, suppose that you have been to the same store a few times to buy eggs. Your brain stores the location of the eggs in your long-term memory, so you do not need to “refind” them every time you go to the store.
Whether memories relate to swinging a tennis racket or reciting the state capitals, they all go through the same process inside your brain. First, your brain encodes the memory, forming a neural connection to store the memory.
Second, your brain recalls the memory. This happens when you use or access the memory.
If the structures inside your brain fail to encode or recall a memory, you suffer memory loss. In other words, you can suffer from amnesia if your brain fails to encode a memory. When this happens, the memory does not exist in your brain.
You can also suffer from amnesia if your brain cannot recall an encoded memory. When this happens, the memory exists in your brain, but you cannot access or use the memory.
How Does a Concussion Happen?
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounds your brain inside your skull. The rigid skull shields the brain from impacts, and the CSF cushions the brain from hitting the inside of the skull. When your brain hits the inside of the skull, it can bleed and bruise. You can suffer permanent brain damage, slip into a coma, or even die when this happens.
When your brain gets jostled, it moves through the CSF. The brain can move when forces on the body from a car accident, fall, or other trauma accelerate or decelerate the brain. As your brain moves inside your skull, the CSF presses on it to keep it from hitting the skull. This can damage brain tissue, causing a concussion.
In response to the cell damage, the body triggers inflammation. The brain swells and increases in temperature. The body makes these changes to trap and kill invading bacteria.
But in a concussion, you usually do not have an open wound.
Instead of trapping and killing bacteria, inflammation causes your brain cells to misfire and produce a range of symptoms, including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Ringing ears
- Blurry vision
Concussions can also cause memory loss.
How Can a Concussion Cause Memory Loss?
Almost all concussions cause some memory loss. But the reasons you might lose your memory after a concussion can differ based on your accident and your body’s response.
Your Brain Did Not Encode Memories of the Accident
Almost all concussion patients have no memory of their accident. Even though the process seems instantaneous, it takes time for a sensory perception to get encoded as a memory.
At the instant of your accident, your brain has not yet encoded many of the sensory perceptions regarding what led to your accident. And immediately after your accident, the jostling of your brain might have prevented it from collecting sensory perceptions or encoding them.
As a result, memories of your accident get lost forever. Your brain never encoded those memories because it was interrupted or prevented from doing so by the forces that damaged your brain.
Your Brain Cannot Recall Memories of the Accident
In some cases, your brain does encode memories of your accident. The forces on your brain might not have disrupted the encoding process. Or you might just have a unique brain that was able to continue encoding even as it was injured. In either case, your brain stores memories of your accident.
But you may still not “remember” your accident because your brain cannot or will not recall those encoded memories. Sometimes this happens as a defense mechanism to combat the trauma of the accident.
Accident victims with PTSD often block out memories of their accidents. This happens subconsciously. The brain blocks the memories to avoid reliving the trauma.
Since these memories were encoded, you might recall them in the future.
Your Concussion Damaged Your Brain’s Ability to Encode or Recall Memories
In rare situations, a concussion can cause ongoing memory problems. This can manifest as a problem with short-term memory, such as forgetfulness.
But in some cases, the concussion injury will damage your brain’s ability to encode or recall memories. This can cause long-term memory problems where you cannot learn new information because the facts or skills simply do not get encoded or recalled correctly.
What Compensation Can You Seek for Memory Loss After a Concussion?
You could seek injury compensation if your concussion resulted from someone else’s negligence. This compensation will include your economic and non-economic losses.
Memory loss after a concussion can impact you economically by interfering with your ability to work or train for a job. It can also cause considerable mental anguish and embarrassment.