People with epilepsy may experience memory problems. This may be due to seizures, medication, damage to the temporal lobe, and the disorder’s impact on a person’s mental health.

This article looks at how epilepsy affects memory. It examines memory assessments, memory aids, and finding support.

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Epilepsy can affect memory in several ways, including:

  • Seizures: Consciousness and awareness are often impaired for a short time before, during and, for a short time, after a seizure. During this time, a person might not fully remember what was happening.
  • Temporal lobe damage: The temporal lobe is an area of the brain that contains a large portion of memory. If a lesion, tumor, or another type of damage to the temporal lobe is the cause of a person’s epilepsy, they can also experience memory impairment.
  • Mental health: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 30% of people with epilepsy also experience severe mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Some mental health conditions may impair memory.
  • Sleep: Epilepsy and epilepsy medications can disrupt sleep for some people. A lack of sleep and poor mental health may also lead to memory impairment.

Epilepsy can cause several different types of memory problems. These include:

  • attention
  • storing information
  • retrieving information

Some anti-epileptic medications can affect memory. They can also cause drowsiness and concentration issues, making it more difficult for a person to pay attention.

However, while some anti-epilepsy medications may have side effects that impair some memory functions, these medications often effectively reduce seizures, which may help improve some aspects of memory.

To assess a person’s memory and how epilepsy affects it, a doctor may suggest a neuropsychological assessment.

In a neuropsychological assessment, a psychologist will use screening questions and tests to comprehensively assess various brain processes, including memory.

The assessment can help doctors understand brain areas that epilepsy affects, such as memory and learning, concentration or attention, perceptual functions, and cognitive skills.

The tests may involve a person’s ability to remember stories, numbers, or pictures. They can help doctors determine where a person’s difficulties lie and strategies that may help them cope with memory impairment.

Memory aids, reminders, and brain training may help people with epilepsy manage and improve memory impairment.

Examples of memory aids include:

  • Diaries: Keeping a journal or diary can help a person remember and keep track of upcoming appointments, contact details, and important tasks. A person may also use them to create to-do lists, or to help them remember daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, such as paying bills.
  • Regular alarms: Setting alerts on a cell phone, computer, or alarm clock may help a person remember routine daily tasks, upcoming appointments or important future dates. Many digital devices have reminder or alarm settings, or a person can download apps with memory-aiding functions.
  • Sticky notes: A person may stick notes in places they are likely to see as a reminder to perform certain tasks. For example, a note on the refrigerator to remember to buy certain groceries or a note on the inside of a door to remind someone to make sure they have their keys and other items before leaving home.
  • Pill boxes: Pill boxes are containers for medication separated into days of the week. These can help a person remember to take their medication daily.

A person can also practice brain training, which involves performing mental exercises regularly. Many companies provide brain training packages that people can access on their computer or phone.

However, according to experts, there is a lack of evidence to support the efficacy of brain training apps and programs. Some of the companies that provide them may make misleading or exaggerated claims.

Read about 5 ways to help improve memory here.

A person may require support for memory impairment or other symptoms of epilepsy, including associated mental health conditions.

Below are some of the services available to people with epilepsy:

  • The Epilepsy Foundation helps people with epilepsy and those close to them to find local support, resources, and events in their area. Resources include information on medication, tools such as a seizure tracking app, and epilepsy centers where specialists can help with diagnosis and treatment.

Can epilepsy turn into dementia?

Although they are separate conditions, epilepsy and dementia both affect the brain, and each may increase the risk of the other.

While epilepsy does not become dementia, a person with epilepsy may be at greater risk of developing dementia.

What damage does epilepsy cause in the brain?

Most types of seizures are unlikely to damage the brain. However, brain damage may cause epilepsy.

Seizures lasting longer than 5 minutes, called status epilepticus seizures, may cause brain damage. These seizures may result in chronic epilepsy, permanent neurological damage, and complications such as respiratory failure or heart damage.

Epilepsy can affect memory. This may occur due to seizures, damage to the temporal lobe, poor mental health, and epilepsy medication.

Epilepsy can affect how a person receives, encodes, stores, and retrieves memories.

A person may be able to manage memory issues associated with epilepsy using memory aids and memory techniques, such as diaries, sticky notes, pill boxes, and mind maps.