The effect of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) on different aspects of memory: a selective review

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2005 Nov;27(8):977-1021. doi: 10.1080/13803390490919245.


Deficient learning and memory are frequently reported as a consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because of the diffuse nature of the injury, patients with TBI are not the ideal group for studying brain-behavior relations. Nevertheless, characterization of the memory breakdown following TBI could contribute to the assessment and rehabilitation of this patient population. It is well documented that memory is not a unitary system. Accordingly, in this article I review studies that have investigated the long-term effect of moderate to severe TBI on different memory aspects, including explicit and implicit tests of memory. This review demonstrates that TBI affects a large range of memory aspects. One of the conclusions is that the memory impairment observed in TBI patients could be viewed, at least to some degree, as a consequence of a more general cognitive deficit. Thus, unlike patients suffering from global amnesia, memory in patients with TBI is not selectively impaired. Nevertheless, it is possible to detect a subgroup of patients that do meet the criteria of amnesia. However, the most common vulnerable memory processes following TBI very much resemble the memory deficits reported in patients following frontal lobe damage, e.g., difficulties in applying active or effortful strategy in the learning or retrieval process. The suggested similarity between patients with TBI and those suffering from frontal lobe injury should be viewed cautiously; considering the nature of TBI, patients suffering from such injuries are not a homogeneous group. In view of this limitation, the future challenge in this field will be to identify subgroups of patients, either a priori according to a range of factors such as severity of injury, or a posteriori based on their specific memory deficit characteristics. Such a research approach has the potential of explaining much of the variability in findings reported in the literature on the effect of TBI on memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology