Nervous System

How can head injuries cause memory loss?
Answered by Jennifer Horton and Science Channel
  •  Jennifer Horton

    Jennifer Horton

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. The human brain is an amazing, complex organ. It enables you to smell, hear, taste, touch and see, thus making it possible for you to read this sentence. It also helps control your body temperature, regulate your heartbeat and breathe in and out. What's more, five minutes from now, its different regions will work together to help you recall what it is you're reading. Though scientists still don't have a complete grasp on how the complex process of memory works, they do know it is a brain-wide process in which many different areas of the brain play a role. These different regions are responsible for creating, storing and recalling many pieces of information and putting them together to form a complete whole -- what you know as your "memory." It's an impressive feat. The downside is that if any one of those areas involved in the memory process is damaged, the well-tuned system may encounter problems. You can think of it as one domino being removed from a domino setup. With one piece missing, the rest simply can't flow.

    To understand why this is so, it helps to picture how your brain is sitting in your skull. It's not like your kneecaps or elbows, permanently fastened in place. Rather, it floats around inside your skull like a big Jell-O jiggler, where it's susceptible to high-impacts and sudden jarring movements. When your body suddenly stops moving or you get hit with a substantial force, your brain rams up against the hard inner surface of your skull, which may lead to bruising, bleeding or swelling, any of which may lead to some form of memory loss.

    A person who sustains a head injury may experience any number of memory problems, depending on the type of head injury: They may have trouble with words or thoughts, with motor memory or with a select group of items. The injury may affect their short-term memory, their long-term memory or both. It may also make forming new memories temporarily difficult. Most forms of memory loss that result from minor head injuries are only temporary or affect only a precise period of time, usually relating to the event during which the injury was sustained.

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  2. Head injuries can cause nerve fiber damage, internal bleeding and swelling in the brain. As a result, a person might feel disoriented, suffer repetitive headaches or experience memory loss for several months after the injury. Most head injuries are sports related; therefore, it is prudent to protect yourself with proper headgear when biking, skiing or snowboarding. Athletes who receive repeated concussions can suffer speech impairment and memory loss.

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