Extreme poor short term memory

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After brain injury, people often complain of having a poor memory. They're normally surprised that actually they can remember things that happened a long time ago, long-term memory, but that's because the brain's had longer to learn that. Things I did as a little girl, I've had 40 years to learn that memory and to retain it. I'm unlikely to lose those memories. But things I've done today are new and my brain's not had time to process that. I haven't thought about it. Therefore, people suffer from short-term memory. A lot of us say we have a poor memory, but with people with brain injury, it's severe memory. So maybe they can't remember they've had breakfast and they haven't got the ability to know that they're full. Therefore, they'll overeat to make sure that they're having enough nourishment. We see mums who can't remember the children they gave birth to, especially if they've had a brain injury shortly after giving birth. That's devastating for children if mum can't remember who they are. Some people can't remember their own name. We have some people who actually has a positive effect, and maybe they can't remember that they smoked and they'll come around from coma not knowing they're a smoker. That's possibly the only time when a brain injury is positive.

We're talking about really severe short-term memory loss, that can be really debilitating. Imagine if your employer asked you to do something and you can't remember what they've asked you to do. Maybe you can only remember one thing at a time. So if someone says to you, "Please put the kettle on, then get the cake out," you won't remember what they've asked you to do. So we have to break things down into bite-sized, one task a time for people to remember. Sometimes, it's not actually the memory that's a problem, it's concentration. If you haven't concentrated on something, we haven't learned it anyway. So it's important if we're asking someone to do something with a brain injury, there's no other stimulus. So the television's not on. Our brain has an unfortunate habit of focusing on things that are not important. So if the television's on, someone will focus on that and not what they've been asked to do. We need to give people a chance. If we're talking to somebody in a group, we need to mention their name first so that somebody knows that we're talking to them, then they can concentrate and then they stand a better chance of remembering what they've been asked to do.

We can't improve people's short-term memories, but what we can do is give them strategies to work around it. Better use of a diary, mobile phones and tablets, having a whiteboard in the kitchen, or a tick sheet, so once they've had a breakfast, they tick it so they know they've had it. The use of dosette box for medication's really good. So we put the pills in the box and people know they've taken it for that day and not tempted to overdose which could be really dangerous. We can work with OTs and other professionals to help people work around their poor memory. Unfortunately, though, it's unlikely that we can improve it. We just walk around it. It can have a huge effect on people's lives if they can't remember things. It can result in a loss of partnership, the loss of job, therefore the loss of income at home. Short-term memory loss is a real problem to people with brain injury. It's not just like we've forgotten to put the cat out or to post a letter. This has a real effect on people's lives and can lead to serious problems for them.