A concussion typically occurs when a person suffers a blow or jolt to the head that causes the brain to move, and to sustain damage, within the skull. Virtually any violent accident or incident can cause a concussion. It is a common injury in motor vehicle crashes, accidental falls, and in a wide variety of sports. Concussions can leave victims battling a host of vexing, persistent, and even lifelong symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, brain fog, light sensitivity, and mood changes.
Another common symptom of a concussion is memory loss, which can cause profound problems for people in the aftermath of a brain injury. In this blog, we discuss the ways that memory loss appears in connection with a brain injury, what it may signal, how people live with it, and what an experienced brain injury lawyer can do to help.
To discuss your rights after suffering a concussion, contact an experienced attorney today.
Overview of Memory Loss
Most people tend to think of memory loss in two, somewhat narrow ways. One is in the sense of amnesia, popularly portrayed in soap operas, for example, as a character who gets into an accident and suddenly cannot remember her name, where she is from, or her loved ones. The other is in the sense of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other age-related cognitive decline. This memory loss, too, tends to be understood as a loss of knowledge about oneself and one’s surroundings.
These conceptions of memory loss, however, represent but two examples of a much broader category of disrupted brain functioning. In fact, memory loss takes many forms, such as:
- Difficulty recalling certain events, often ones associated with trauma;
- Difficulty recalling specific facts (such as names or birthdates);
- Difficulty forming new memories/forgetting what you were just doing;
- Difficulty retaining new information for long enough to act on it (remembering to remember);
- Losing track of time; and
- Fading memories of long-ago; and
- Confusion typical of Alzheimer’s and similar cognitive decline.
So, too, memory loss in its various forms results from a broad swath of causes that include, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Progressive and acute disease or infection;
- Side effects of medications;
- Brain trauma;
- Emotional disorders;
- Substance abuse;
- Vitamin deficiency; and
Memory Loss After Traumatic Brain Injury Generally
According to the brain injury information organization Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC), the stereotypical soap opera form of amnesia rarely happens in cases of traumatic brain injury. More often, the immediate memory loss associated with a TBI affects short term memory (trouble learning and remembering new information, recent events, or what’s happening from day to day) and prospective memory (remembering to remember).
For example, TBI victims may not remember:
- The traumatic incident itself (“What just happened?” “How did I get here?”);
- The passage of time;
- Conversations they just had;
- To carry or pack important items; or
- To engage in important tasks.
Doctors often use simple memory tests to assess the presence of TBI-related memory loss. For instance, they may give a patient three words to remember at the beginning of a check-up and then ask the patient to repeat those words a few minutes later. Or, they may ask the patient to explain, in the patient’s own words, a common saying like “no use crying over spilled milk,” or to describe an event they recently observed. Patients experiencing memory loss will tend to struggle with these tasks.
Concussion-Related Memory Loss
Medical professionals may classify concussions as “mild” TBIs. Do not let that designation fool you, however. All brain injuries can inflict serious harm and cause significant disruption in a person’s life.
What is more, research now suggests that even though concussions typically feature less than one day of post-traumatic amnesia, memory loss symptoms can occur after even the most “minor” concussions, and can persist for extended periods of time.
A study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for instance, found that high school athletes who suffered concussions in competition or training experienced memory loss for at least 36 hours after the event, even if the initial assessment of the concussion placed it at the most mild end of the spectrum of severity.
Ten years later, a review of concussions in college athletes reported in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry found that prolonged memory impairment lasting up to more than a year “occurs after sports-related concussions among a significant number of college athletes.”
For student-athletes, such long-lasting symptoms can lead to academic struggles and elevated school drop-out rates. Anyone who suffers from memory-related impairment after a concussion may experience similar difficulties, which in turn can lead to a host of problems such as job loss, relationship strain, and substance abuse.
“Minor” Concussions Sometimes Go Unrecognized
Perhaps the most troubling thing about concussion-induced memory loss, and the prospect for it lasting far longer than one might expect, is that a person suffering from these symptoms may not even realize how or why they started. It might not occur to them that the bump on the head they took six months ago is the reason they struggle to remember important errands, or that they fail to absorb reading material for a class. Many of these people simply do not realize that a “minor” bump on the head can cause a concussion that leads to major problems.
Hitting one’s head, seeing stars, and getting your bell rung, has for centuries been considered, in effect, no big deal in the medical sense. Doctors and patients assumed a concussion would heal without lasting damage, given sufficient rest. Only now are we beginning to understand that, in fact, the damage can persist if patients and medical providers do not take concussions extremely seriously from the get-go.
Symptoms to Watch out For
Our principal advice to anyone reading this blog post is to seek medical attention immediately after any violent blow or jolt to the head or to the body that has the potential to cause a concussion. Even a concussion that does not appear to show symptoms lasting more than a few minutes could, if left untreated, lead to severe health consequences. Do not trust your own self-assessment of how you feel after absorbing a jarring impact. Instead, let a doctor who is trained in spotting telltale signs of a concussion perform a quick exam.
Then, regardless of what the doctor finds, take care to pay attention to how you feel, and ask someone close to you to monitor you, too.
When it comes to memory-related symptoms, watch out for (and ask someone to pay attention to) any unusually numerous instances of:
- Forgetting details of a conversation quickly;
- Leaving home without basic items you need, like car keys or a jacket;
- Asking the same question repeatedly in a short period of time;
- Forgetting important events, appointments, or occasions;
- Inability to recall recent information; and
- Searching for the right word to describe a simple thing or concept.
Everyone has these sorts of memory lapses every once-in-a-while for all sorts of reasons that may have nothing to do with a TBI, of course. Your goal is to keep track of these instances happening more often than usual, and for a variety of them happening within a relatively compressed time period. If you notice these symptoms cropping up, it could signal memory loss related to a concussion, and means you should follow up with your doctor right away.
How a TBI Lawyer Can Help
It probably would not occur to most people to think of hiring a lawyer after suffering from a supposedly “mild” concussion. Shake it off and move on with your life, right?
Not so fast.
As we’ve said, no traumatic brain injury is truly “mild” or “minor”, and it is never something to just shake off. Getting a concussion means you have damaged your brain, arguably the most vital and vulnerable human organ. Always take a TBI seriously. If you do not, then you could suffer severe long-term health consequences.
Recovering from a concussion, or any TBI, takes time and often requires strict limitations on your activity. Many concussion victims feel tempted to return to everyday activities right away. Medical science tells us, however, that even when concussion victims feel okay, their brain may not have fully healed and activity may put them at long-term risk.
For many people, taking the time necessary to recover from a TBI also costs money. They need medical care. They need to limit their day-to-day activities. They need to take time off from work.
That is where hiring a lawyer comes into play. If you suffered a concussion or any other TBI because of someone else’s unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions, then that person—not you—should pay for you to heal. An experienced TBI lawyer’s job is to hold that person (or corporation, or organization) financially accountable for you, so that you can take the time and have the financial resources necessary to make a full recovery from memory loss and other nagging post-concussion symptoms.
How does a brain injury lawyer do this?
Every case has its own unique factors, of course, but in general a lawyer protects a concussion victim’s interests by:
- Investigating how the concussion happened and whose careless, reckless, or intentionally harmful actions contributed to it. Oftentimes, experienced traumatic brain injury lawyers will work with medical experts who have the tools and learning to diagnose and assess brain injuries, even concussions that happened in the past. The goal in this investigation is to identify parties who may have legal liability for causing the concussion that put the victim out of action.
- Negotiating with insurance companies and defense lawyers to obtain a fair and reasonable settlement that provides the financial compensation a concussion victim deserves for the trouble caused by the head injury and its ensuing symptoms, especially memory loss. Here, too, an experienced attorney may work with medical experts who can help to establish a concussion victim’s prognosis and needs for recovery.
- Litigating a legal claim for damages against parties who refuse to offer fair and reasonable compensation through an agreed-upon settlement. Experienced brain injury attorneys have the depth of understanding of the medical science of concussions necessary to explain to a judge and jury why even a “minor” concussion to a client has led to major complications like persistent memory loss, and requires maximum compensation.
No legal claim for money damages has a guaranteed outcome, naturally. Brain injury cases take a variety of paths depending upon the nature of the concussion and the ways its symptoms disrupt a person’s life.
As a general matter, however, concussion victims who suffer from debilitating symptoms like persistent memory loss, all because of someone else’s unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions, often have the right and ability to recover compensation for their medical and other concussion-related costs, for lost time at work, and for their physical pain, emotional suffering, and diminished quality of life. Ask an experienced traumatic brain injury lawyer to help you understand your legal rights after a concussion leaves you to battle long-lasting, disruptive memory problems.
Contact an Experienced Concussion Attorney
A concussion probably will not cause you to forget who you are, like a character on a soap opera. It very well may, however, leave you struggling with diverse, frustrating, lapses in memory that do not go away and that harm your life in ways big-and-small.
Never treat a concussion as a minor injury. It could have major implications for your ability to go to school, earn a living, and maintain relationships. If a concussion left you battling memory loss problems, then contact an experienced brain injury attorney today for a free consultation.