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Whiplash – Can This Affect My Memory?

“Doctor, is it normal for people after a whiplash injury to notice problems with memory? I can’t seem to remember things I just recently did since my car accident…”

Whiplash is an injury that classically occurs as a result of a car crash at any speed, even at a low speed! This is because at a lower speed, there is little-to-no damage to the car, and the forces from the crash are not absorbed by crushing metal. As a result, those forces are transferred to the contents inside the car—that is, the passengers. This sometimes results in a significantly greater injury compared with crashes that occur at twice the speed because the latter is more likely to result in vehicular damage that can absorb more of the energy of the impact. The actual injury that occurs in whiplash is caused by the sudden, rapid movement of the head resulting in varying degrees of injury to the neck, as well as to the contents inside the skull—that is, the brain. The brain literally “bangs” into the inside walls of the skull when the head is rapidly accelerated during a car crash. The resulting injury is a concussion. What’s interesting is that most patients injured in a car crash often don’t mention a concussion nor is it usually asked about at the doctor’s office as other, more obvious injuries are dwelt with. The condition is usually referred to by one of two names: post-concussive syndrome or mild-traumatic brain injury (MTBI).

“Doctor, when I’m reading a book or magazine, sometimes I have to re-read the passage several times before it sinks in. It’s as though I lose my concentration and I can’t focus on what I just read. The other day, I was talking to a group of co-workers and I lost my place in the middle of the discussion and had to ask, ‘…now where was I?’ I notice this is happening a lot since the car accident.”

This can be very embarrassing, frustrating, and scary for patients suffering with MTBI. Other symptoms associated with this include difficulty focusing (blurred vision), headaches, having difficulty in pronouncing certain words (“tongue twisted”), difficulty understanding speech, difficulty remembering numbers or groups of numbers like phone numbers, addresses, birth dates, and so on. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be very disruptive, making work and everyday tasks challenging.

How long does it last? MTBI can completely clear up in 2 to 6 months without problems or it can hang on for two years or longer, and may even become a permanent residual from the car crash. In one study, continued problems after a two-year time frame were reported in close to 20% of those injured two years earlier. This study suggests that about 1 out of 5 people may continue to suffer with MTBI and the associated brain-related problems for at least two years following a car crash.

Doctors of chiropractic are trained to do a thorough history, orthopedic, and neurological examination, and to ask specific questions about mild-traumatic brain injury.


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