How epilepsy can affect memory

11th July 2018

Many people with epilepsy will report that memory can be a key issue. This can be due to a variety of reasons; various types of seizures, side effects of medications or the effects of epilepsy surgery are three potential causes. Sometimes it may be a consequence of seizure activity itself. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, but it can be incredibly distressing for a person with epilepsy.

How seizures can affect memory

All seizures have the potential to affect your memory, whether it’s during or after the seizure occurs. Those who have more frequent seizures may also find that their memory is affected to a greater degree.

Memory loss can occur as a seizure affects the brain in different ways. A generalised seizure affects the whole brain, making it more likely that it will affect memory. A focal seizure affects part of the brain, so whether memory is affected or not will depend on which part of the brain the seizure occurs in.

The temporal and frontal lobes are largely responsible for your memories, so if these areas of the brain are affected during seizure it’s likely that some memory impairment will also occur. For example, the left temporal lobe is responsible for verbal memories and might lead to a person forgetting certain words or getting lost mid-sentence. The right temporal lobe is responsible for visual memory and remembers faces and places.

How anti-epileptic medications can affect memory

There are various types of anti-epileptic medication (AEDs) that can affect memory as a side effect, although this can vary from person to person. They can lead to drowsiness and attention problems that affect short-term memory for the person who is taking them. This, in turn, can make it more difficult to learn new things.

Those who take high doses or more than one AED are more likely to experience memory impairment. It’s rare that memory impairment due to medication disappears completely, although on the other hand, they could improve memory by reducing or completely controlling seizures.

If you are concerned that your AEDs are impairing your memory, we would recommend that you speak to your healthcare professional. We also run a medication review service that might prove helpful.

Memory aids

If you find that your memory has been affected by your epilepsy, whether due to seizures or medication, memory aids can be a useful way to cope. Here are a few ideas you could use as a memory aid:

  • Sticky notes – write little prompts to help you remember certain things and leave them in places you’re likely to see them.
  • Calendars – people who plan things using a calendar are much less likely to forget things they need to do or certain occasions.
  • Diaries – keep a diary that you can refer back to for information you may have forgotten. This could be part of a larger seizure diary – read our blog post here for best practice on keeping a diary.
  • To do lists – write a list of things you need to do to ensure you don’t forget. This could include taking medication, chores or meetings. Be sure to check things off after you’ve done them.
  • Use voice notes – if you have problems writing you might use voice notes or a dictaphone. Most up-to-date mobile phones have this feature.

National Epilepsy Training can help

For more information on memory and epilepsy, please feel free to get in touch. You can call us on 01706 373075 or email admin@nationalepilepsytraining.co.uk.