One of the most important things to understand about memory loss, is that it is rarely like the memory loss depicted in movies and on television. Memories in the adult brain are stored in so many different parts of the brain and intertwined with other memories.
I'll tell you how my husband describes the long term memory problems that he has: He looks at our photo albums and he knows everyone in the pictures. What he can't remember is the event taking place when the pictures were taken. Or when someone he worked with phones him, he remembers the person and knows that he worked with him, but can't remember where they worked together, or what they did while working together. He knows that he coached baseball for a lot of years, but can't remember much about the games (he used to remember every ball that was thrown, who threw, who batted, who made homeruns, players batting average - every little detail of every game).
I don't mean to scare you about this, but you should know there are chances for some long term memory issues in a brain injury. The doctors are maybe being hopeful that there will not be long term memory problems, or maybe they don't see it as a medical "problem".
For my husband, the short term memory problems are so severe that I rarely think about the long term ones. But they do exist. He isn't missing, as some survivors are, whole blocks of time. It seems to be more like categories of memories. He has retained his "book-learning" memories like calculus, physics, chemistry, geography, song lyrics, etc. He knows the facts of his personal history like birthdate, where he went to school, social security number.
Some of the things he does not remember: any events (eg., he knows the date we got married but nothing about the wedding or our life together, he knows where and when he went to grammar school but can not recall anything that happened there, he says his dad was good to him but can't remember anything they ever did together), anything about our children except their names (he doesn't even know their approximate ages and would accept it if I said our daughter was 2 or 25), where he knows people from (he recognizes their names but cannot recall why he knows them), that his father is dead (and has been for 33 years), does not recognize anyone in old (older than about 20 years) family pictures including his parents, grandparents, and even himself.
My husband has anoxic brain damage which has caused diffuse damage to the entire brain rather than severe damage to a certain part. Perhaps that explains his type of memory loss.
Rob (30, 6 1/2 yrs. post tbi) has forgotten more things that he knew right after the accident. Sometimes I am able to 'get him back there'. I describe where we lived and how old he was or something surrounding the thing or person we want him to remember. Then he knows the answer. But he has almost no short term memory. He used to forget if he was taking or giving something in his hand while he was doing it. Now he can only remember a meal for a few minutes.
However, he does learn. He learns the names of new staff members, but doesn't trust himself. So we give him a cue, like the first letter and then he guesses. He is usually right.
He has never forgotten our phone number. Now he will push the buttons to call us. Of course, this doesn't mean your family member will be like this. It seems many survivors go farther faster than Rob did.
Every one is different, every injury is different, but there IS SOME validity to the generalization that memory-problems can be persistent, ongoing, permanent. They also can be overcome, sometimes the brain does "heal" and "regain" function, and sometimes people just learn to compensate...
The problem is when they use these generalizations to deny further help, to deny therapy, to deny treatment. They say your damage is permanent and can't be helped, so they don't help you. BUT...whether it's permanent or not, they should STILL help you!
If it IS true, they should still provide therapy to help people learn to compensate... and if it is NOT true, then they should provide therapy and treatment to help the healing process.
BUT, there's NO WAY for them to know on a case-by-case basis whether that person's problems are "permanent" or "curable" or somewhere in-between. They should TRY to help EVERYONE!
Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
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