Stuart Macgee, Helpline & Information Officer at Epilepsy Scotland looks at epilepsy and memory and how you can improve your memory.
We all forget things like people’s names and where we have left our keys.
When this happens, we can feel frustrated. Our memory holds so much information it is not surprising it can sometimes let us down.
Our memory has two parts; short-term memory and long-term memory.
We use our short-term memory to remember information for a short time, a few seconds or minutes. It is then forgotten.
We use long-term memory to store and hold details for a long time. Usually we can find these memories as we need them.
For example, when we are first given our bank card security number, we have to learn it and use it before it stays in our long-term memory.
Furthermore, information we want to store usually needs to be practiced or linked to something we already know. It then passes from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Encoding or learning is the process of repeating information.
Memory and epilepsy
Memory problems happen for different reasons. There are three stages to memory: learning, storing and finding the memory.
Mistakes can take place at any of these stages causing us to forget.
People with epilepsy often have memory difficulties. This can be for many reasons.
Cause of epilepsy
Some people have a cause for their epilepsy. This can be due to damage to the brain from a head injury or infection.
If part of the brain that deals with memory is damaged, this could lead to some memory loss.
People with temporal lobe epilepsy often have memory problems. This is because the temporal lobe is where we learn new memories.
A person’s memory can be affected before, during and after a seizure.
Changes in the brain before a seizure can mean information is not processed well enough to pass to our long-term memory.
Awareness can also be affected during a seizure. This means people have little or no recollection of what has happened.
Even between seizures a person’s memory may be affected.
This is because brain activity may be disrupted even though it is not enough to lead to a seizure.
Many people worry that the medication they take for their epilepsy causes poor memory.
The side effects of some medication (for example poor concentration and drowsiness) can affect your memory.
However, your memory will be improved if the drugs stop or lower the number of seizures you have.
Do not stop your epilepsy medication without medical advice.
How we feel can affect our concentration and attention, which can then affect our memory.
Research shows that people with epilepsy are more likely to be depressed or anxious.
If our brains are overloaded by these feelings, we can become distracted and unable to focus on information. In turn this will affect our memory.
Lack of sleep
People with epilepsy need to have enough sleep because lack of sleep can be a trigger for seizures.
Your memory improves when well-rested. This is because tiredness makes people less able to concentrate, learn and store new information.
People with epilepsy will have extra information to remember, like taking tablets, noting seizure triggers and medical appointments.
If you know you are forgetful, there are many things you can do to help you remember.
Focus on one thing at a time
It helps to do one thing at a time. Try to focus and develop daily routines and try to be as organised a possible.
This will help you to plan the things you want to do.
Don’t overload your memory
Mistakes are more likely if your memory has to deal with many things all at once.
Furthermore, if there is too much information, your brain may become overloaded and you can forget things.
It helps to write down any tasks that you need to do. Keep a diary and calendar of events.
Keep your mind active by doing things you enjoy.
Anything from crosswords, sudoku to playing computer games. Also, physical exercise like walking can also help.
Looking after yourself
Stress can affect epilepsy as well as memory. Speak to your GP or epilepsy specialist nurse about relaxation tips.
Try to relieve stress where you can.
Call our Helpline on 0808 800 2200 to find out more about different ways to manage your epilepsy.