Brain injury - Post Traumatic Amnesia PTA

  • Post Traumatic Amnesia (PTA) is one of the stages of recovery after a traumatic brain injury. During this stage, the child or young person may seem confused and disorientated. How long the PTA lasts depends on how severe the injury was. When the child is out of PTA they can start other rehabilitation that needs more memory skills.

    What is PTA?

    When a child or young person is 'waking up' after being in a coma, they may seem confused or disorientated. This period is referred to as post traumatic amnesia (PTA).

    PTA can last for hours, days or weeks depending upon the severity of the brain injury. When a child or young person is in PTA, they cannot remember day-to-day events such as who came to visit them in hospital. They can usually remember up to the time of injury but have problems remembering what happened afterwards. Children and young people in PTA may often not know where they are or what time of day it is. Most children and young people come out of PTA, even in the most severe cases.

    Helping your child in PTA

    A child in PTA may not be able to cope with too much noise or activity and will need to be in an environment where they are not over-stimulated. For this reason, they may not be able to have more than one or two visitors at a time. If they are agitated, restless or are at risk of climbing out of bed, they may need to have their mattress on the floor while they are in hospital.

    The positive aspect of PTA is that the child or young person will not usually remember much of what has happened to them during this time. Little pockets of memory may surface but most of this time will not be remembered.

    Testing for PTA

    There are several ways to measure the length of post traumatic amnesia. The rehabilitation team at the RCH use the Westmead PTA scale. The scale is used for children seven years and over and consists of seven orientation questions and five memory items.

    When a child or young person is out of PTA, the rehabilitation team will start other assessments to see what specific changes have occurred after the brain injury. The child can start other rehabilitation treatments that need more memory capacity once they are out of PTA.

    Key points to remember

    • Post traumatic amnesia is a normal part of recovery a after brain injury.
    • How long PTA lasts is different for each child.
    • It is important that a child or young person in PTA is in an environment that is not over-stimulating.
    • The length of PTA can be measured using the Westmead PTA scale.

    For more information

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatric Rehabilitation Service based on information from the Brain Injury Service at The Children's Hospital Westmead. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed September 2020.

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