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Cognitive Disorders after Traumatic Brain Injury

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is a cognitive disorder after a traumatic brain injury?

A cognitive disorder is when your brain does not work correctly after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). A TBI often damages the front part of your brain, which is the part of the brain used for thinking and memory. You may have difficulty doing the same things that you did before the TBI.

What are the symptoms of a cognitive disorder?

Your symptoms can get better, stay the same, or get worse over time. They may go away and come back again. You may have any of the following:

  • Mental:
    • Trouble paying attention
    • Trouble thinking clearly or doing 2 tasks at once
    • Memory problems
    • Decreased learning speed and ability
  • Physical:
    • Trouble sleeping or fatigue
    • Changes in your appetite
    • Poor balance
    • Headaches or pain
    • Problems with your ability to smell, taste, hear, or see
    • Trouble staying warm or cool
  • Emotional:
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Impatience
    • Trouble controlling your feelings, actions, and behavior

How are cognitive disorders diagnosed?

Your brain heals for many months after a TBI. Healthcare providers may need to test you regularly to monitor your brain function. You may need any of the following:

  • An awareness test may be used to measure how well you move or speak. Tests may also be done to check your memory.
  • A CT scan or MRI may show damage in your brain. You may be given contrast dye to help the damage show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How are cognitive disorders treated?

Treatment depends on the severity of your condition. You may need medicines to help decrease your symptoms, such as headaches or pain.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Go to physical, speech, or occupational therapy. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength and decrease pain. A speech therapist teaches you ways to improve your speech. An occupational therapist teaches you skills to help with your daily activities.
  • Go to group or individual therapy. A therapist can help you cope with your feelings after a TBI.
  • Improve your memory. Write things down often. Use a calendar or an appointment book to remind you what tasks you need to do each day. Set up a daily routine.
  • Get enough sleep and rest. Do not rush back to your daily activities.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are more sleepy or difficult to wake up than usual.
  • Your signs or symptoms get worse.
  • Your arms or legs feel weak, or you lose feeling in a body part.
  • You have new problems with balance and movement.
  • You have signs and symptoms more than 6 weeks after the TBI.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have blood or clear fluid coming out of your ears or nose.
  • Your pupils are not equal in size.
  • You stop responding to others or have a seizure.
  • Your speech is slurred or does not make sense.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You have severe pain.
  • You have severe vomiting.
  • You want to harm yourself or others.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.