Memory is the ability to encode, retain and recall information. It is something that we use constantly in our daily lives from recalling faces, names, and appointments, to the taste of coffee, he smell of a rose or how to make dinner.

Following a brain injury the embedded and long-term memories usually remain intact while short-term memory is significantly affected. There are numerous ‘memory’ strategies that can make your life a lot easier.

Types of memory

Immediate of working memory- 
This is the initial state of memory in which information is initially taken through the five senses. This type enables a person to remember a piece of information for a short time e.g. remembering a phone number long enough to dial it.

Short-term or recent memory-
This processes information long enough for it to be used for a few minutes, hours or days such as appointments, birthdays etc. There may be slow and gradual improvement of short-term memory over the years.

Long term or remote memory

Episodic memory-
This includes memory for personal information and events in one’s life e.g. getting married.

Semantic memory-
Refers to memory for factual things e.g. the Shannon is the longest rive in Ireland.

Procedural memory-
This type relates to memory for how to do things like skills e.g. driving a car, making dinner.

Prospective memory-
Refers to memory to do something in the future and involves planning e.g. remember an appointment of birthday.

How does our memory work?

Scientists have spent years researching the brain to understand how our memory works. It is widely agreed that our memory system can be divided into three main areas.

  • Encoding- this includes processing the information that is to be remembered
  • Storage- this is when the information is filed away and stored in a location where we can find it again
  • Recall- this involves the retrieval of the information

People with ABI can have difficulties with any of these three areas.

There are a number of useful strategies that can be used in order to aid memory difficulties. These include internal and external memory strategies.

Memory problems following ABI

Problems with memory are one of the most common consequences of acquired brain injury. These can include problems with remembering faces, skills or ever events in our lives.

For the majority of people, semantic memory and procedural memory are generally maintained following and ABI. However, short and prospective memories are generally affected, e.g. forgetting to pass on a telephone message or an upcoming appointment.

Other memory problems

Post-traumatic amnesia

This is a temporary state, immediately after the injury, during which the person is conscious but his/her everyday memory is not working. The person will have no memory of their time in post-traumatic amnesia.

Retrograde amnesia

This is a form of amnesia resulting from brain injury in which the individual loses memories for the time period just prior to the injury. This time period may stretch from a few minutes to several years, and typically it is worst for events that occurred just before the injury.


Dependent on the part of the brain that is affected problems can occur in regards to remembering events using words or pictures.

  • Verbal, semantic or auditory memory- associated with damage to left hand side of the brain so there can be difficulty with words and language
  • Visual or spatial memory- this is associated with the right hand side of the brain and affects recalling pictures or images

Common memory problems in daily life

  • Difficulties with remembering things when distracted or a delay has occurred
  • Difficulties with learning new information
  • Remembering things from the distant past better than events that occurred a short time before the accident
  • Having words on the tip-of-the-tongue and not being able to remember them

External strategies

This includes using aids and the environment in order to aid memory.

Routine – a well ordered daily and weekly routine is very helpful for someone with a brain injury. It can help to write out a weekly routine at the start of each week and trick off events when done.

Diary – this should be used regularly and at set time to record important information such as appointments and things to do. It can also be sued to record your activities e.g. taking medication. Other aids include an alarm clock, calendar, wall chart, tape recorder or electronic organizer.

Well being – it is important to look after yourself and ensure you get time to relax.

Internal strategies

These refer to things that the person with the brain injury can do in order to aid in memory.

  • Prioritize information to be remembered
  • Repeat and rehearse information
  • Use visual images and verbal cues to learn new information
  • Use acronyms / mnemonics that are easy for you to recall
  • Categorize information into groups
While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this factsheet the information is intended to be a guide only and proper medical and professional advise should be sought. Elements Support Services are not responsible for any damages or injuries that arise as a result of the information in this factsheet.