Epilepsy and memory loss - what’s the link?

  • January 8, 2021
  • 3
In this article

There is nothing worse than being unable to remember something important just when you need it. And for people who live with seizures, the link between epilepsy and memory loss can be especially frustrating

If you have ever found that you struggle to remember things or miss appointments because you’ve forgotten, epilepsy could be part of the reason. So, can seizures cause memory loss and what should you do if you think your epilepsy is making you forgetful? 

What is the link between epilepsy and memory loss?

Many people with epilepsy say that they experience memory problems. There are several reasons why this might happen which will be different for each person:

  • Damage to areas of the brain

If your epilepsy was caused by a head injury, a lesion or an illness, this might have affected a part of your brain which processes your memories. 

  • Uncontrolled seizures may affect brain structure

A study from 2018 found that epileptic seizures may cause a change in certain brain cells that are involved in making memories. 

  • Where the seizure happens

Our brain stores different types of memories in specific parts of the brain. If you have focal seizures that begin in one of these places, it might disrupt the way memories are being stored or processed. 

  • Influence of medication

Seizure medication can make you tired, lose concentration or feel confused. This means you may not be able to focus so well or learn things so easily. 

  • Short term memory loss after seizures

The Ictal phase (when you are recovering from a seizure) can often make people feel confused and mean they struggle to remember where they are or who they are with - but your memory will usually return in time. 

  • Feeling tired or stressed

Your brain uses the time you are asleep to store and organize new information. But if your sleep is interrupted by seizures, it disrupts this process and makes it harder to remember new things. In the same way, feeling stressed can also make memorizing information harder. 

What to do if you are experiencing seizure memory loss

It can be really tough to feel that your memory is not working as well as you would like. If you have experienced this, it is important to speak with your epilepsy doctor. While there is not currently a simple solution to the problem of seizure memory loss, there are things that can help:

  • Visiting a neuropsychologist - a special psychologist who can assess and treat thinking problems caused by damage to the brain.
  • Adjust your medication - if your doctor thinks your anti-epilepsy drug is making it hard for you to remember things, they might reduce your dose or recommend an alternative
  • Behavior training - your doctor might give you advice on ways to improve your memory or habits which make it less likely you’ll forget those everyday tasks

Research into seizure memory loss

Right now, there is no simple cure to the problem of epilepsy and memory loss. However, researchers are trying to find a solution and recent studies have found that certain kinds of brain stimulation may improve memory in people with epilepsy. With more research and better treatment, seizure memory loss may become less of a problem in years to come.

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