Information Processing: Common Brain Injury Deficits

Our nervous system can be compared to a computer, and when the brain is injured, there can be a breakdown of the computer. This kind of “computer breakdown” will impede the rate that one processes information.

Information Processing

People who experience a brain injury might find they have slower information processing ability. They can go on information-overload, when they enter, say, a grocery store. (Flickr / Creative Commons / 1Flatworld)

Processing information is multifaceted, and many other deficits are related to the simple act of processing information. First, it takes a small amount of time for messages to be transmitted through the nervous system and processed. Second, it takes more time to be able to decide how to act on the information.

Information processing refers to both the amount of time it takes to respond to new information and how much information we can hold at one time. For example, toddlers have a lower limit of the amount of information he or she can process than someone full grown. The elderly also have a lower capacity to process information, which is why they take longer to make decisions.

Even after a mild traumatic brain injury, information processing can be reduced. In some incidences, the reduction can last for many weeks.

As Kevin describes in his TBI Voices interview, people with head injuries might have a hard time going to the store because they are on information-overload. This is related to information processing ability. Even when someone without a head injury goes to the store, he or she is bound to experience various eye-catching displays pulling the shopper in different directions. There is normally music playing and announcements being made on the intercom at the supermarket, which can be overwhelming for a brain injury survivor. Then, one needs to focus on what they have on their list and keep track of what they have found.

In Zachary’s case, he struggled with taking the SAT. He was injured when he was 17 years old, and it is no wonder why he might have trouble in an academic setting. If the brain injury survivor has difficulty processing information at a normal speed, he or she will have trouble coping with school, where, again, there is an “information overload.” For more on Zachary’s story, click here.

For Michael, he struggled with dealing with work situations. Considering brain injury can cause information processing breakdowns, it is not hard to imagine why he would have trouble at work, trying to remember different things and follow directions. He would have to ask for guidance more often than normal, and it became a problem for him at work.

It might be easier for a brain injury survivor to operate on the level of doing one task at a time, but when you try to combine multiple tasks, they may not be able to do it. This is because they have trouble with processing information and holding on to more than one piece of information at a time.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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