Memory Difficulties

General

Your family member's memory problems may be confusing to you. Initially, he may not be able to recall any day-to-day information. As he recovers, he becomes more oriented. Day-to-day memory difficulties seem to resolve. He still may not be able to recall names of therapists, therapy schedules, or recent activities (such as eating, shaving, or talking with you), but he may recall past events, names, and facts with a great deal of accuracy (such as names of high school friends or the great time he had prom night). As he continues to recover, he may be able to recall immediate events and faces and names that occur on a consistent basis (such as therapists and nurses), but memory for incidental information (from surrounding environment) and specific detail (names, dates, times) may remain impaired for a considerable length of time or may never resolve. This inconsistency in memory functioning may be somewhat confusing to you as a family member, but it occurs frequently as one recovers from a head injury. In fact, it has been dubbed the "swiss cheese" memory by professionals, because some information "falls through the holes" and other information is retained.

One of the most devastating effects on your family member is the long-term memory difficulty. This difficulty affects his ability to learn new information, such as may be needed in his job.

The following are examples of memory difficulties you may observe:

  • Your family member may not recall names, addresses, or phone numbers
  • You may hear your family member using statements such as, "Hey, you!" or "Hey, nurse!" or "the speech person." This may happen because he is not able to recall names of new acquaintances. As therapy schedules continue, he will improve in his recall of names.
  • Your family member may not remember the specifics of a meeting he has attended. In fact, he may not even remember the meeting.
  • Learning new job skills may be particularly difficult for him. For that reason, a return to his previous job may be the best alternative.
  • Your family member may become frustrated when he cannot remember where he has put things in the house.
Management Techniques

Memory deficits usually do not become resolved. Instead, your family member will need to learn compensatory techniques to function in the home and work environment.

  • Insist that your family member use a notebook as a memory aid. Encourage him to carry his "memory book" with him at all times. A commercial planner such as a Day Timer or Day Runner will be most helpful. Assist your family member in organizing information.
  • Keep a record or map of where important items are kept in your home. In that manner, if your family member loses something, he can go to his notebook to find the location.
  • Encourage your family member to use his notebook. When he meets a new acquaintance, have him write the name and a cue, either a drawing or a description, to help him recall the person.
  • Use a cuing system, such as a watch with an alarm, to cue your family member as to when to use the notebook. Use the cuing system in conjunction with a set of written instructions, so he can always use them as a reference.
  • The difficulties your family member has in the work setting will be frustrating for him. Be as supportive as possible. Maintain contact with the rehabilitation professional who is supervising the work reentry process. In that way, you will be aware of any difficulties in the work setting.