Addressing the Impacts of Traumatic Brain Injury

Buffy Buchanan Speech Language PathologistTraumatic Brain Injury (TBI) often leaves patients with deficits in memory and attention. These deficits can make completing daily tasks difficult, affect participation in conversation and impact performance at work or school. TBI deficits will depend on the part of the brain that is damaged and, for most patients, each injury affects the individual in different ways. Physical Medicine Supervisor and Speech and Language Pathologist Buffy Buchanan (shown here) shares her insights on brain injury and the tactics that can be used in patient recovery.

Challenges of short-term memory loss

Memory loss is very common, but not all memory is “amnesia” as seen on TV. Most TBI patients remember what occurred long ago, via their long-term memory. It’s the new and recent events they struggle to remember, using what’s called short-term memory. The inability to recall daily events and conversations can make life challenging and frustrating for patients and families. Common short-term memory problems include:

  • Forgetting details of conversations
  • Misplacing things like keys, phones and personal items
  • Feeling unsure of what you have done earlier in the day, week or month
  • Losing track of time and the day
  • Forgetting appointments, tasks to complete at home, work or school
  • Forgetting to take medicines

Strategies you can incorporate to aid in memory

  • Decrease noise to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Organize your home, classroom or work environment
  • Stick to routines
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Uses lists, calendars and notes to aid in memory
  • Repeat new information to better remember it
  • Use pillboxes to track and take medicine accurately

Focusing on attention deficits

Attention deficits make it difficult to complete daily tasks as well. Lack of attention can make it difficult to maintain conversations and can negatively impact work and school. There are several types of attention.

  • Arousal – The level of alertness you have to your situation and surroundings
  • Sensory – Ability to focus on something using one of your senses – like listening to a friend in background noise
  • Execution – This includes selective attention (focusing on one thing at a time) and divided attention (focusing on multiple things at a time)

Damage to certain areas of the brain can attribute to attention deficits. Other things like fatigue, sleep disorders, headache and emotional problems can result in decreased attention.

Signs of attention deficits

  • Difficulty listening to others and getting distracted easily
  • Difficulty reading a book or article
  • Inability to finish tasks, difficulty learning new information
  • Inability to multitask
  • Difficulty holding conversations

Strategies and tips to aid in improved attention

  • Focus on overall health (sleep, pain, stress, diet)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Hydrate
  • Engage with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Attention exercises
  • Cognitive apps
  • Talk to your doctor about therapy and medications
  • Clear your environment of distractions
  • Start with small tasks and build slowly
  • Focus on one task at a time
  • Take breaks
  • Review information and take notes

Memory and attention deficits can affect your interactions with others and your ability to perform at work and school. Using a combination of Cognitive Therapy, implemented strategies and speech language pathology, a TBI patient at NWTHS can reclaim their life.  


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