Memory and the hippocampus are affected by traumatic brain injury

Brain Scan

Millions of adults and children experience traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year. Among other physical and psychological deficits related to TBI, head injury is known to negatively affect an individual’s learning and memory processing. This kind of injury is particularly dangerous for children, who may experience disruptions in their brain development and cognitive abilities after TBI. As a result, school-age children and adolescents may struggle academically and fall behind their peers in education settings. Although memory is critical for learning and daily functioning, little research has been conducted to examine the underlying mechanisms of TBI-related memory deficits.

A group of researchers in Texas addressed this gap by studying the relationship between memory and the hippocampus in children with TBI. The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for forming and accessing short-term and long-term memories, and it continues to grow and develop throughout the adolescent years. Using brain imaging technology and memory assessment tasks, the researchers sought to understand the relationship between memory performance and hippocampal damage in children with TBI. They found that:

  • In children 8 to 15 years old, those with TBI had less hippocampal volume than those without injury. Damage to brain structures may limit growth, resulting in a hippocampus with smaller total volume.
  • Hippocampal volume was associated with injury severity. Children with less extensive brain injuries displayed more hippocampal volume than those with more severe injuries.
  • As predicted, non-injured children performed better on memory tasks than children with TBI. Among children with TBI, those with more severe injuries and less hippocampal volume performed more poorly on memory tasks than those with less severe injuries.

Disruptions to brain development can have serious implications for a child’s success in school settings and is associated with poorer psychological outcomes later in life. The hippocampus is at risk for negative outcomes after TBI, which can adversely affect an individual’s ability to retain and access memories. Clinicians should be aware of the potential for hippocampal damage in children with TBI in order to address the risk of long-term memory dysfunction.

DeMaster D, Johnson C, Juranek J, et al. Memory and the hippocampal formation following pediatric traumatic brain injury. Brain and Behavior. (August 2017).

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