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Does Brain Injury Affect Intelligence? Discover Why IQ Drops, Then Gets Better

Does Brain Injury Affect Intelligence?

Does a brain injury affect a person’s intelligence?

Brain injury can affect many cognitive abilities that make it more difficult for a person to learn new information. However, most of the time, it does not change a person’s overall intelligence.

Today’s article will discuss how a brain injury can impact learning, along with the steps you can take to help your brain absorb more information.

Does Brain Injury Affect Intelligence?

After any brain injury, even a mild one, there tends to be a drop or loss of IQ, but this score usually improves as time passes.

This fact leads researchers to argue that most “intelligence loss” after brain injury is really just a result of trauma. In other words, the brain is too occupied with repairing itself that it does not have the resources to answer test questions.

That’s why IQ test numbers tend to be lower in the early stages of recovery, but go back up later on.

Strictly speaking, the person doesn’t lose any intelligence they had before their injury.

However, the brain does lose the ability to access that knowledge as quickly and efficiently as it used to.

This is an important distinction. Just because someone needs more time to process information after their brain injury doesn’t mean the person is not still intelligent.

How Brain Injury Affects Learning

Certain cognitive difficulties make it nearly impossible for some TBI patients to absorb new information.

This can cause brain injury survivors to experience the symptoms of a learning disability, such as ADHD, even though they do not have that disorder.

The following are the main cognitive effects of brain injury that impact a person’s ability to learn.

1. Memory problems

how to fix memory problems after tbi

Memory issues are the most common cognitive impairment following a brain injury.

These memory problems don’t tend to affect a person’s long-term memory. Instead, they usually impair short-term and working memory.  

Working memory is what the brain uses to hold on to information it just received. That’s how you can recognize what the person talking to you just said, for example.

When working memory is impaired, it becomes almost impossible to absorb what you hear or read the first time. You may need to read a paragraph several times before you understand it. This can make learning a new subject especially difficult.

2. Attention and Concentration Difficulties

Another common cognitive issue that can impair learning is attention and concentration difficulties.

Small attention spans cause people with TBI to have trouble focusing or attending to more than one thing at once. This can lead to problems such as:

  • Difficulty finishing a task or project
  • Restlessness
  • Problems with holding a conversation

It can also make it difficult to stay focused and retain new information.

Attention is considered the building block of learning. That is why it is critical to find ways to overcome attention problems after brain injury.

3. Organization Problems


After a TBI, the brain can have difficulty organizing new information, which will make things much harder to process.

This can have a huge impact on learning. Even if the person can pay attention and remember what was said, they still won’t understand it unless their brain can organize it logically.

Disorganized thinking can have other negative side effects as well. For example, it can cause the person to make rash decisions because they can’t analyze a situation and choose the best option.

How to Overcome Learning Difficulties After Brain Injury

Memory, attention, and organization problems are the three main causes of learning difficulties after brain injury.

Therefore, the best way to improve your ability to learn and retrieve new information is to focus on treating those three issues.

Fortunately, you can train your brain with cognitive rehabilitation exercises that will let you recover some mental skills.

For example, short-term memory exercises can help you recall things you just learned. And attention skills can be improved by starting with short, easy activities and slowly increasing the load on your attention.

Organization skills are a little harder to learn on your own. For these, we recommend working with a speech or cognitive therapist, who can show you strategies that will help you organize your thoughts better.

Brain Injury and Intelligence

In the end, a brain injury does not make a person less intelligent. It does, however, make certain mental activities, such as learning, require more time and effort.

This is because the brain works less efficiently after a brain injury. Following a TBI, neural connections that the brain used to rely on have been destroyed, which makes it difficult to perform complex actions.

The good news is these neural connections can be reconstructed by activating neuroplasticity through cognitive exercises.

Therefore, the more you practice improving your attention, organization, and memory skills, the more your brain will reinforce those neural pathways.

As these skills increase, you should notice that your learning skills improve as well.

Featured Image: ©iStock/Wavebreakmedia

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