Reduced Processing Abilities

snail with brain on backMost of us have days where we feel like we are wading through treacle, but what about trying to climb a mountain while the treacle is cascading like lava from a volcano?
Living with a brain injury is tough, seriously tough.
You want to keep up, you want to be a part of everyday life but your brain is running at a different speed.
It might take a year to process one piece of information that would usually take a split second. This isn’t because of any change to someone’s intelligence – it is because the brain can no longer find the information it needs, and somehow, it has to keep working behind the scene to forge new links to create new connections.
Imagine then, that everything you want to respond to or understand takes a long time to work out.
As the brain heals these connections are made more quickly so ten years post-injury this waiting time might be down to much less time.
Another decade on and it takes a day or a few hours – but still, you don’t have that split-second recall.
People living with brain injury have to learn to say, ‘I don’t know.’ In the meantime, the brain gaps-fills and says whatever comes to it first.
The cruelty is that it can also take a long, long time for people to realise this is happening to them, so please don’t jump to conclusions. If something doesn’t make sense to you and it isn’t important – let it go. If it is important try rephrasing and repeating the conversation later and several times to see what changes.
Slowed processing is seriously debilitating and only time, perseverance and intensely concentrated effort will help things to develop.
Please, give people the support they need while their brain rewires.
  • Introduction
  • Conscious Mind
  • Subconscious Mind
  • Experienced outcomes
  • Things that Can Help


Many aspects of someone’s life can be affected by reduced processing speeds following a brain injury. 

Often these issues aren’t addressed, and the impacts are often poorly understood.

An excellent place to start is to compare the scientific data of a healthy brain and then compare this to how things generally feel to most people struggling to keep up. There is no experimental data available for the injured brain, and so the descriptors are based on overall reported experiences and feelings.

Processing – the conscious mind

Healthy Brain:

  • Limited processing capacity
  • Capacity feels like the size of a large car-cleaning sponge
  • Multi-tasking 1- 3 events
  • Short-term memory c.20 seconds
  • Electrical impulses travel at 120/140 mph
  • Process c.2,000 bits of data per second

Injured Brain:

  • Severely limited processing capacity
  • Capacity feel like the size of the moon on your little finger nail
  • Maximum effort to sustain 1 simple event
  • Short-term memory c.1 to 5 seconds
  • Electrical impulses travel at 5 / 15 mph
  • Process around c. 5 / 10 bits of data per second

Processing – the subconscious mind

Healthy Brain:

  • Expands the processing capacity in switched support of conscious thinking using experiential data
  • Incorporates long-term memories in processing
  • Manages thousands of data stream at one time
  • Electrical impulses travel at over 10000,000 mph
  • Processes an average of 4,000,000,000 bits of data per second

Injured Brain:

  • Little or no experiential data available for switching
  • Reduced long-term data available
  • Reduced data available for processing
  • Electrical impulses barely fire
  • Drastically limited data and speeds

There can be a general lack of awareness that the brain can feel as though it is physically operating at drastically reduced speeds following a brain injury.

Damage can occur to the myelin sheath and established neural networks can be interrupted, making it challenging to find the data needed. The cascade of bio-chemicals can interfere with processing speeds.

Experienced outcomes

Many people report being unable to adequately describe what it feels like to live with reduced processing capabilities. Many say that their brain feels slower, or will characterise the brain as feeling foggy.

As with other cognitive outcomes, many people can struggle with recognising what is wrong, and as a result of this find it difficult to explain things in a meaningful way to others. For some people, it may feel as though their brain is lacking the tools it once had at its’ disposal, but others can only say that their brain works differently.

Depending on the severity and location(s) of the damage, many people report that it feels as though the super-power of the subconscious mind isn’t working it all. Usually, this support system of our thinking produces rapid results and reflects the information we need back to us in very personal ways. It will incorporate our beliefs, our attitudes, our personality, our experiences, our language, memories, and the facts we individually hold, so that what ‘comes out’ actually represents the whole of who we are. When everything works, we can present ourselves in predictable ways that bring a sense of familiarity, and we can also express our intentions through our actions, responses and behaviours.

However, a brain injury can interrupt all of this. When we take into account the full range of cognitive, physical, behavioural, and emotional impairments that can happen, we can begin to see how all of these can interject between the intention and the final expression.

Living with these outcomes can be soul-destroying. When people are aware of these deficits and the perpetual errors produced, many people isolate themselves to reduce the incidences of brain error. It isn’t the person who is making mistakes – it is the brain!

Examples of problems that arise

In many instances, reduced processing abilities can cause an experience that makes it seem as though it is the other person who appears unfocused and baffling. These unintended but noticeable projections are an outcome of slowed thinking, coupled with other impairments, that produces what seems like accurate internal feedback.

People will often be unable to recognise that their impairments make it difficult for them to express themselves well or thoroughly. As such, it isn’t a lack of responsibility on their part that makes them think that the error of understanding lays with the people they are trying to communicate with, but an anomaly of interpretation. That people haven’t understood may not be processed quickly enough for individuals living with brain injury to realise that it was the lack of structure and meaning in their expression that created the confusion. So, unable to process everything all they are grasping is the ‘end’ of the communication – the result that it didn’t work – and this is where their understanding is erroneously based. Again, this is not a fault in the person – it is a fault in the brain.

Every encounter, every communication event can feel as though the person is trying to count every single moving car across six lanes of a busy motorway. The incoming information alone can be overwhelming, and people can seriously struggle with relating this to anything promptly.

It is important to note that every brain injury is unique, and the difficulties people have will vary.

Things that can help

Because many people struggle to recognise their deficits, one of the most important things for them is external support. Providing information and gentle and constructive feedback does help. Improvements can be slow and take time, but there is never a moment that the brain isn’t rewiring.

Inflammation can exacerbate problems, so it is important to consider eating for nutrition, using supplements and black seed oil to manage symptoms, as well as investigating alternative treatments and incorporating the other suggestions made on this site.