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March 16, 2013 / Mark Kerrigan

The Temporal Lobes and Their (Dys)Function

templobe11 2

Courtesy of Centre for Neuro Skills

As the name suggests, the temp0ral lobes are found right around the temples–above the ears. Essentially, the temporal lobes are involved with accessing memories, hearing, language and perception of both visual and auditory stimuli.

For those who have sustained damage to their temporal lobes, there are primarily eight signs and signifiers. First, there is a disruption of auditory sensation and perception. This means that the survivor may or may not hear what others may hear-in the case of music, they may be tone-deaf.

Secondly, there could be a disruption of selective attention–like when there are too many stimuli. Personally, I know sometimes I get too overwhelmed with too much noise or too many conversations going on at once. I can deal with “white noise,” but it’s just when I can hear people talking and make out the words, like at a coffeeshop. This drives me crazy and it’s only made exacerbated by too much caffeine. To many visual stimuli is like when I go to the grocery store and am looking for a particular type of cereal. I mean, the entire aisle is filled with boxes and bags, and often I start showing signs of anxiety–and I usually wind up getting the wrong stuff–much to my wife’s chagrin. In the interest of full disclosure, about 15 years ago, I was diagnosed as having ADD as a result of my TBI. It was not until early 2011 that I was informed that this diagnosis was faulty and that ADD usually did not result from a TBI. Live and learn, I guess.

The third issue which cana result from damage to the temporal lobes is the disturbance of visual perception. This results in the survivor not being able to know what he is seeing. Like when the survivor comes to a stop sign, although he sees it, and realizes he sees it, the survivor may not low down until the very last minute. Or with brake lights. My wife has said to me, “Did you not see their brake lights?” I did and I do, but they lack significance for me sometimes.

Issue number four resulting from temporal lobe damage are problems resulting from organizing and “cataloging” of verbal material. The temporal lobes are involved in auditory processing. In the same way as with the stop sign, sometimes the survivor can hear the words, understand their meanings, and yet not comprehend the information being relayed. According to the Centre for Neuro Skills, “The functions of the left temporal lobe extend to comprehension, naming and verbal memory. So you can see that any damage to the Temporal lobes can potentially lead to disturbances in auditory sensation and related functions.” So if someone has difficulty naming things like an umbrella or a car, there is likely damage to their temporal lobes.

The fifth disruption which is a result of damage to the temporal lobes is with language comprehension. Like if the survivor has to have simple instructions explained several times, chances are the temporal lobes are damaged. I suppose it could also be listening to things like lectures or reading book.

Next we have impaired long-term memory. This would be like when the survivor has no recollection of things from years back. I remember a dear friend from church whom I went to see after he was in a nursing home because of alzheimer’s. I could tell when he could recount things that happened from his teen years that he really did remember them, but at other times he couldn’t remember things from about 10 years earlier.

The seventh “problem” as a result of injury to the temporal lobes is altered personality and expressing emotion and feelings. Either the survivor does not or cannot express emotions when speaking. Like I’ve said in a previous post, the nurses in rehab used to tease me about saying “I just won a million dollars” with little or no expression. The were trying to get me to show some inflection and some excitement.

The eighth and final problem which results from damage to the temporal lobes is changed sexual behavior. The survivor’s behavior may go from being very shy to very promiscuous or vice-versa. There was a girl on television a few years ago with a TBI who reportedly wanted  to have sex with her own brother. While many survivors of BI experience an increased sex drive, there is an probably a larger number of survivors who report  diminished sexuality.

These eight issues are challenges which occur or come from injury to the temporal lobes: problems with auditory perception, attention related problems, difficulty with visual perception, difficulty with verbal information, problems with language comprehension, problems with longterm memory, altered personality and changes in sexuality.

As always, keep getting better, and I’ll talk to you soon.



Leave a Comment
  1. Susan George / Mar 16 2013 3:57 pm

    This was the best article! It explains easily and with examples of how people suffer with a TBI that damages the temporal lobe. It makes me feel ” normal” knowing that the problems I have are from the injury and not stupidity or mental illness. Thank u

  2. Katie / Oct 25 2013 5:01 am

    Thank you for your post! My boyfriend is in ICU just down the hall from where I’m laying. We had a motorcycle accident 4 nights ago. I am reading up on what I can.

    • onthemarkwriting / Oct 25 2013 11:44 am

      Katie–I’m so sorry about the accident! Thanks for you comment, and you might check outed for further information. But don’t forget, sleep is incredibly important for a recovering brain!

    • Sandra / Aug 12 2014 9:13 pm

      I suffered from a TBI in 1997 in an automobile accident. While I have made a full recovery with no medical issues, I am a different person. Be patient with the recovery process & don’t press too many memories too soon. It gets overwhelming/frustrating what you can’t remember. Good luck & I wish him strength/patience during his recovery.

      • onthemarkwriting / Aug 12 2014 9:22 pm

        Well said, Sandra! I sometimes forget that I was someone different BEFORE my TBI. Thanks for your comment!

      • Lou / Feb 7 2015 5:06 pm

        You must be lucky or it wasn’t that bad try getting your head bashed with an ax and suffering temporal bone fracture 7th 8th cranial nerve damage, Hearing loss, ringing of the ears, seizure disorder, vertigo, facial paralysis, constant headaches and post traumatic stress disorder

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