The cognitive effects of brain injury change the way a person thinks, remembers, and interacts with the world.
The good news is there are ways to improve your cognitive abilities, even if it’s been years since your injury.
In today’s article, we’re covering the nine major cognitive effects of brain injury. Then, at the end, we’ll take a quick glance at what you should do to help reverse them.
Sound good? Let’s dive in.
Cognitive Effects of Brain Injury
The nine main cognitive effects of brain injury are:
- Memory problems
- Language difficulties
- Visual and perceptual issues
- Low initiative and motivation
- Reduced concentration and attention spans
- Reduced information processing
- Increased repetition
- Impaired reasoning
- Problems with empathy and insight
We’ll look at each one of these in more detail below.
1. Memory Problems
Memory problems are probably the most common cognitive effects of brain injury.
Most of the time, brain injuries don’t permanently affect someone’s long-term and personal memories.
Instead, what brain injuries usually impair is a person’s short-term and working memory.
These types of memory are what the brain uses to hold on to information it just received. That’s why you can recognize what the person talking to you just said, for example.
When an injury impairs working memory, it makes things such as reading or talking with others much tougher.
2. Language Difficulties
It often surprises people to learn that language is a cognitive skill. But speaking involves multiple brain areas all working together.
If any of these areas become damaged, you will lose your ability to speak to and understand others.
The most common language difficulties include:
- Receptive aphasia (problems understanding spoken words)
- Expressive aphasia (problems producing the right words)
- Dysphagia (slurred speech)
Luckily, a speech therapist can work with you to overcome these difficulties.
3. Visual and Perceptual Impairments
Another cognitive effect of brain injury causes trouble with vision and perception.
However, most of the time a person’s vision itself is usually fine; They see an object clearly, they just don’t understand what they are looking at.
For example, some people after brain injury can no longer tell the difference between faces.
This condition, called prosopagnosia or “face blindness,” causes the face of a loved one to look like a stranger.
Other vision problems lead to a condition called visual neglect.
With visual neglect, you notice objects either on your right or left side, but not both at once. Again, the root of the problem lies in the brain, not the eye itself.
4. Reduced Concentration and Attention Span
Brain injury often takes away a person’s ability to focus and complete whatever they are doing.
Memory issues can contribute to this problem, since sometimes the person has trouble remembering what they are doing.
However, it is also a symptom of executive dysfunction after brain injury, which damage to the frontal lobe causes.
5. Low Initiative and Motivation
This one is another sign of executive dysfunction. This effect makes it difficult to find the motivation to start a new action.
Executive dysfunction sometimes look like laziness, but it’s not. The person’s brain just can’t figure out how to organize the steps needed to get started on something.
For example, they might realize that they need to stay active to keep moving forward on their recovery. But trying to plan a task overwhelms their mind, and they end up preferring to stay at home.
That’s why family and friends should stay patient and help the person find things they enjoy doing.
You will need to start the action for them in the beginning, but as time passes, they should be able to learn how to do it on their own.
6. Increased Repetition (“Perseveration”)
Other cognitive effects of brain injury cause a person to fixate on a specific topic and find it difficult or even impossible to move on.
Or they might repeat the same action over and over, for no clear reason. This is common in traumatic brain injury anxiety disorders.
This makes it much more difficult for people with brain injuries to interact with others socially.
7. Problems with Information Processing
This cognitive effect causes people difficulties with organizing facts mentally.
A person with this cognitive effect will struggle with thinking logically, understanding rules, and following a conversation. This might cause them to get easily frustrated because they don’t know what’s happening.
8. Problems with Self-Awareness
A brain injury can also impair a person’s self-awareness.
In mild cases, brain injury patients might have trouble realizing their own limitations, though they know that they have an injury.
In severe cases, a brain injury will diminish self-awareness so much, the person does not even recognize they have an injury (also known as anosognosia).
While it sounds close to denial, anosognosia is not a psychological condition.
Rather, it’s a neurological one that keeps someone from realizing the facts about their injury.
Anosognosia is hard to treat because you can’t just persuade the person with arguments.
Still, some forms of talk therapy have helped people successfully overcome it.
9. Difficulty with Empathy
Impaired self-awareness usually coexists with problems empathizing.
This cognitive effect of brain injury makes it nearly impossible for some brain injury survivors to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
This doesn’t mean people with brain injury are selfish, though it sometimes seems that way to people on the outside. The person just does not realize how their actions or words appear to other people.
A psychologist can help TBI survivors relearn empathy skills. But they will probably always find it harder to empathize than it was before their injury.
Family members or loved ones of a person with TBI should go easy on them and remember that they don’t mean to hurt you.
If they accidentally cross a line, let them know right away, so they will learn. But do so in a way that won’t embarrass them.
Treating the Cognitive Effects of Brain Injury
So those were the nine major cognitive effects of brain injury. But are there any effective ways to treat them?
Yes, in fact, there are! While you will probably always have some deficits, you can train your brain with cognitive rehabilitative exercises that will let you recover some mental skills.
The reason you still can regain skills is because of your brain’s natural ability to rewire nerve cells, called neuroplasticity.
This rewiring process allows healthy brain regions to “take control” of functions usually controlled by the damaged areas.
The best way to activate this process is through repetition. The more you practice, the more your brain will form neural pathways, and the easier an activity will become.
If you don’t have the money to work with a cognitive therapist, the CT Cognitive Therapy App will help you do the exercises from the comfort of your own home.
The Cognitive Therapy App has over 100,000 exercises that can be customized to your needs and will help you improve your memory and language skills!
Hope for Recovery from the Cognitive Effects of Brain Injury
The cognitive effects of brain injury can be challenging to deal with. They affect everything from your memory to your ability to connect with others.
But even though they are frustrating, you should never give up hope for recovery. With the right cognitive treatment, your mental function will slowly improve.
That’s the power of neuroplasticity.