Many people with epilepsy report having memory problems. A lot of things can affect one’s ability to remember, such as poor health, medications, tiredness, depression, anxiety, how well we concentrate and how motivated we are to remember.
There can be many reasons for memory difficulties in people with epilepsy and they may differ from person to person.
Some reasons why people with epilepsy may suffer with memory difficulties include:
The seizure type and how often they happen
Most seizures have a temporary impact on short term memory, for instance a simple absence seizure may interrupt only a few seconds and cause little or no disruption, whereas a different or more lengthy seizure may cause loss of memory for several minutes, even up to an hour or two.
Focal seizures often happen in the part of the brain responsible for memory, so focal seizures may also play a part in more long lasting memory problems as years go by. Even if focal seizures are well controlled, people often encounter memory difficulties because of the part of the brain that is affected is not functioning as well as it should.
Someone with frequent seizures are also more likely to have ongoing difficulties with memory.
Seizures during sleep
When a seizure happens during sleep, sleep patterns can be disrupted for the rest of the night, leaving you feeling unrefreshed, drowsy and tired in the morning and during the day. This also can affect learning ability, memory and concentration.
Regular seizures during sleep can have a significant impact on daytime functioning and memory.
After a seizure
It is usually difficult to recall information straight after a seizure. This is sometimes called “post-ictal” confusion and it typically goes away after a few minutes. The length of time it takes for memory to return to normal can vary from person to person. There is often some small gap in memory around the time a seizure happens.
Memory problems can sometimes happen because of side effects of anti-epileptic medications. Drowsiness, “fogginess”, concentration or attention problems can affect your short-term memory, and may make it more difficult to learn and retain new information.
People with epilepsy will have different responses and effects from medications. Memory problems are more likely to happen if medication doses are high or if someone takes more than one medication. They will also be more noticeable in the initial phases of starting a new medication.
If you are concerned about any medication side effects, speak to your doctor.
After epilepsy surgery
Memory problems are sometimes reported following surgery for epilepsy. This is most common with surgery to the temporal lobe. Memory assessments are carried out before and after surgery, but even if the surgery stops your seizures from happening, you may have memory problems afterwards. This is individual and can improve over time.
However, epilepsy surgery aims to improve seizure control which leads to a better quality of life and more likely a reduced dose of antiepileptic medication, all of which can help improve your memory.
Someone’s emotional state can affect how well they receive and remember information. Feeling confident, positive and interested can affect the way the brain works by increasing the ability to concentrate and take in information. Feeling really anxious or stressed makes it harder to pay close attention and absorb information. Also, when you have trouble recalling information, worrying might make it harder to find the right details.
Feeling really anxious or stressed makes it harder to absorb information.
Be aware that in times of stress and worry, you are often distracted and your mind is elsewhere, so your memory function may not be as good.
Lack of sleep
Tiredness, lack of sleep or feeling unwell can affect concentration and memory. For some people, lack of sleep can increase the risk of seizures, for others it may be that seizures during the night cause them to be tired.
Not getting enough sleep contributes to memory problems.
During sleep our brain processes information and experiences. Research suggests that getting good quality sleep can help to make memories more stable and preserve our long-term memory.
If you have problems with sleep, talk to your doctor about a referral to a specialist sleep clinic. Sleep disorders are more common in people with epilepsy, so it is possible that daytime sleepiness may be caused by a sleep disorder.
Getting older impacts on storing and recalling information, and can make some aspects of memory more difficult, particularly memory lapses and forgetfulness. This might be because of the physical changes in the brain, other physical or psychological conditions, and also because the demands on our memory can change.
Tips to improve your memory:
- Exercise and diet are an essential part of keeping your mind and body healthy
- Exercise relieves stress, improves blood flow and provides needed nutrients to the brain
- Memory is improved through practice. Keep your mind active by reading, doing puzzles or courses – learn something new
- Mental exercises provide intellectual stimulation.
- Avoiding smoking, alcohol and other drugs as they can worsen your memory
- Being organised reduces stress which can enhances your memory
- Find somewhere to place things that you use in your daily routine
- Make lists of what you want to remember
- Keep a diary/calendar or a journal and be diligent in its use
- Concentrate when receiving new information and try and relate to it something familiar
- Concentrate and pay attention to information that you want to remember
- Repeat any information you want to remember, either say it aloud or write it down. Repetition makes it easier to remember and reinforces the learned information
- When trying to remember names, associate the sound of the name with a similar sounding word
- When we are rushed or stressed our memory often fails us. Our memory is always better when we are not stressed or tired
- Take the time needed to store and recall information. It is important to allow yourself the time necessary to complete a thought, to express yourself or to complete a task
- Try to have some relaxation time for yourself or doing something you enjoy
- Do not try and force yourself to remember things, the more you try to remember, the less likely you will
- Try to limit distractions around you if you need to recall or memorise things. Be positive!
Remember that we all forget things and we remember things in different ways. If you do forget something, don’t punish yourself, it happens to us all.
For more information:
Memory – Video –by Neuropsychologist Dr Laurie Miller, PhD
If only I could remember –by Neuropsychologist Dr Laurie Miller, PhD
Factsheet – Memory
For memory rehabilitation: