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Memory Issues – Edward’s Story

Memory Issues Offered By Epilepsy

By: Edward Crane January 18, 2021
(Note: I am NOT a medical professional – I am simply an individual who has epilepsy and is sharing information.)

Epilepsy has significant effects on retrieval from our declarative memory, also referred to as explicit memory, which is devoted to the processing of: names, dates, places, facts, events, and so forth. Memory issues in people with epilepsy poses a daily challenge in life, plus are difficult to properly assess and treat. These issues are among the largest contributors to poor quality of life for those with epilepsy.

Factors that contribute to memory impairments include: antiseizure medications (ASM), underlying causes of seizures, psychosocial factors, surgery side effects and the effects of recurrent seizures.

Types of Memory Issues:

  • Problems of attention and encoding
  • Problems of Storage
  • Problems of Retrieval

Problems with Attention and Encoding

Epilepsy can reduce your attentional speed or rate of information processing. Years of research also have shown that many forms of epilepsy are associated with impairments in sustaining attention over time. Other studies have demonstrated a reduction in attention span, defined as the amount of information you can process at any given moment. All of these deficits ultimately affect your ability to encode information into some form of memory.

Problems of Storage

Unfortunately, even if you successfully encode a bit of information, you might not be guaranteed to remember it. The epilepsy may cause difficulties with being able to store memories.

Research has shown that people with epilepsy are prone to forget things more quickly than others. In some situations, it may seem that information “goes in one ear and out the other.” This rapid rate of forgetting is thought to be the result of impairment in the ability to store or consolidate new information. Difficulty with this stage of memory processing is no accident; epilepsy directly affects many of the brain structures involved in memory processing.

Problems of Retrieval

Sometimes you may know that the information is in there, but you just can’t get it out. In this case, it has been encoded properly and it also has been stored adequately. The problem is in gaining immediate access to it. This kind of difficulty in “retrieval” is a common cause of memory failure in people with epilepsy and many other neurological conditions.

How can epilepsy affect memory?

Seizures

Seizures can affect memory because for memory to work properly the brain needs to continuously monitor itself. Epileptic seizures can interfere with this self-monitoring process at any of the following stages:

Damage to the temporal lobe

Research shows that a large portion of memory is located in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe. So, if your epilepsy is caused by a tumor or lesion in the temporal lobe, this can also cause memory problems.

Epilepsy medicine

Some epilepsy medicines may affect your memory, because they can slow down the speed at which your brain processes information. On the other hand, epilepsy medicines work to reduce the number of seizures you have. So, if you have fewer seizures, this may actually help your memory.

Memory problems can have a big impact on your life, causing problems in everyday life, relationships, education and work. They might make you feel embarrassed, anxious or depressed. While a memory problem cannot usually be cured, it is possible to adapt, making it easier to cope and live a relatively normal life.

Actions to take to improve memory

Various methods can be used to help improve your memory. You might use just one method, or two or more together. It is likely to take some time to get used to using the various methods.

Follow a set routine: Following a routine is one of the most important things you can do to improve your memory. Having a routine means you can get used to what to expect, which helps reduce the demands placed on your memory.

Adapting to your surroundings: By making changes to your surroundings you will have less need to use your memory:

  • Keeping a note pad handy to write messages
  • Using a notice board for important information
  • Having a particular place to keep things, such as keys and glasses, and always putting them in the same place

Use memory aids: There is a wide range of external memory aids and the most important thing is to choose something that you feel comfortable with.

  • Diary/calendar
  • Digital voice recorder or tape recorder
  • Notebook
  • Lists, for example shopping lists
  • Alarm clock or timer
  • Pill reminder box for medicines
  • Mobile phone with alarm
  • Smartphone apps
  • Post-It notes
  • Wall chart or wipe clean memo board
  • Photo album or memory book

Improving wellbeing: Your emotional wellbeing can have a big impact on your memory. If you feel stressed, anxious or depressed, you may find it harder to concentrate or think clearly. Or you might pay less attention to what is going on around you. This makes it harder for you to remember things later. So, take the necessary steps to improve your wellbeing.

“Memory loss for me is the biggest challenge that epilepsy presents me daily.”

Resources:

Epilepsy Foundation Types of Memory Problems https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/challenges-epilepsy/thinking-and-memory/types-memory-problems

Practical Neurology Epilepsy & Memory Chrystal Reed, MD, PhD https://practicalneurology.com/articles/2019-oct/epilepsy-memory

Epilepsy Action Memory Problems and Epilepsy https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/memory

Epilepsy Foundation Types of Memory Problems https://www.epilepsy.com