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Cognitive Curriculum for Students with Traumatic Brain Injury: Memory -- SHNIC Educators Information

Memory is essential to all cognitive activity. Most learning -- particularly academic learning -- is a process of improvement in memory over repeated presentation of information. Deficits in memory have been identified as among the most common sequelae of neurological insult. In the classroom and other naturalistic settings, however, it is difficult to isolate deficits in memory from problems in other related cognitive domains, such as perception, language and attention. Impairments in any of these areas can impact memory, while interventions directed to any of these domains will have beneficial effects on memory function. In addition, different categories of experience (e.g., a motor pattern, a fact, a personal experience) are processed through different memory systems, any of which may be disrupted depending upon the nature and location of injury. Thus, the presentation, as well as the rehabilitation, of memory impairment must take diverse forms. For the purposes of curriculum development, however, it is useful to conceptualize all types of memory as occurring over three sequential stages which differ in terms of cognitive processes involved, duration, capacity and format for encoding. Two of these stages -- short-term memory and long-term memory -- are available to rehabilitation efforts and are discussed below.

Short-term memory (STM) refers to the stage of information processing immediately following sensory registration, during which recognition, organization, filtering and coding of information occur prior to transfer to long-term memory. Capacity of short-term memory is limited and increases with age to seven, plus one to two items in adults. Information in STM is probably maintained throughout transient electrical or chemical changes in brain cell activity. Duration is brief (less than 30 seconds), but contents of STM can be renewed indefinitely with active rehearsal. When STM is applied (i.e., information is actively manipulated, elaborated, combined, etc.) for problem- solving, it is referred to as working memory. Impairment of STM is frequently seen following TBI, and may reflect attentional and/or memory deficits.

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Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., Named President and CEO of Kennedy Krieger Institute

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