Survivors may experience a variety of cognitive effects after sustaining a spinal cord injury (SCI), including fatigue and impaired memory. However, this begs the question, can a spinal cord injury cause memory loss?
The answer is no, at least not directly. Cognitive function is only affected by a spinal cord injury with a co-occurring traumatic brain injury (TBI).
This article will explore the connection between SCI, TBI, and memory. It will also discuss management techniques you can use to cope with memory loss.
Can a Spinal Cord Injury Cause Memory Loss?
The simple answer is no. Spinal cord injury will affect motor and sensory functions, but it will not cause memory loss. Memory is a cognitive function and cognitive functions are regulated by the brain, not the spinal cord.
The spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. It serves as the communication pathway between the two and is mostly responsible for movement and sensation. This is why the primary effects of a spinal cord injury affect movement and sensation.
Therefore, a spinal cord injury alone cannot cause memory loss. However, an SCI with a co-occurring traumatic brain injury can affect the brain and its functions, which can cause difficulty with memory.
Individuals who experience memory loss after SCI have often experienced some type of TBI. For example, in a car accident, hyperextending your neck is categorized as a spinal cord injury, but hitting your head on the car window is a traumatic brain injury.
Studies show that about 59% of spinal cord injury survivors will simultaneously experience a TBI, which can then cause a variety of secondary effects including memory loss. Fortunately, there are ways to manage the effects of a TBI and improve memory.
Managing Memory After SCI and Co-Occurring TBI
When a spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury occur at the same time, the severity of both injuries will impact the secondary effects the survivor may experience.
For instance, after a TBI some survivors are able to maintain long-term memory but struggle with short-term memory. This means it can be less challenging to recall things from the past, but more difficult to retain new information. This occurs when pathways in the brain have been affected by an injury.
Fortunately, cognitive functions can be improved through neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Neuroplasticity is best activated through high repetition exercises. The more a skill is practiced, the more the brain recognizes its importance and strengthens the existing pathways for it and/or creates new ones. Therefore, it’s important to practice as much as you can to promote recovery.
Working with an occupational and/or speech therapist is extremely helpful. They can provide a cognitive rehabilitation plan suitable for your ability level. Additionally, there are various cognitive exercises you can do at home in between therapy sessions to stay engaged and activate neuroplasticity.
Particularly to address memory after spinal cord injury, you can try:
- Writing things down
- Setting reminders on your phone
- Getting adequate sleep
- Reducing stress
- Getting rid of distractions
To keep yourself motivated and engaged in consistent therapy, you can use the CT Speech and Cognitive Therapy App. This app provides access to over 100,000+ cognitive rehabilitation exercises to help improve memory and other skills.
Last but not least, be patient with yourself. The chances of improving memory increase with time and consistent practice.
Addressing the Connection Between SCI and Memory Loss
Spinal cord injury is complex and multifaceted. It affects movement and sensation depending on the level of injury. While SCI can directly affect movement and sensation, it does not cause memory loss alone.
Instead, only a spinal cord injury with a co-occurring traumatic brain injury can cause a variety of cognitive difficulties including impaired memory. Fortunately, memory and other cognitive functions can be improved through neuroplasticity and high repetition exercises.
We hope this information helps you understand the link between spinal cord injury and memory loss, and encourages you to engage in cognitive therapy.