How epilepsy can affect memory
It is not unusual for people who have epilepsy to have memory problems. Problems may happen for any or all of the following reasons.
Any type of epileptic seizure could potentially affect your memory, either during or after a seizure. If you have lots of seizures, memory problems might happen more often.
Some people have generalised seizures that affect all of the brain. Others have focal seizures (sometimes called partial seizures) that affect only part of the brain. Some people have both generalised and focal seizures.
If you have focal seizures, the way your seizures can affect your memory will depend on where in the brain your seizures happen.
The brain has two halves called hemispheres. Each half has four parts called lobes: the occipital, parietal, temporal and frontal lobes.
Abnormalities in the temporal or frontal lobes of the brain are the most common reason for memory problems in people with epilepsy.
The left temporal lobe is important for verbal memories such as learning names and remembering facts for exams. If you have seizures that start in this area you may have problems remembering words, and get stuck mid-sentence.
The right temporal lobe is important for visual memories like remembering a person’s face or finding your way around a place.
The frontal lobe is important for prospective memory. Seizures in this area can cause problems remembering to do things in the future.
After a seizure
You may have difficulty remembering information straight after a seizure. This is sometimes called post-ictal confusion and it usually goes away once you have recovered. The length of time it takes for memory to return to normal can vary from person to person.
If you have temporal lobe epilepsy you may have memory difficulties even if your seizures are well controlled. This is because the temporal lobe is responsible for creating memories.
Post-ictal – after a seizure. This word is often used when describing how someone feels or behaves after their seizure ends: a post-ictal state where the person may be very confused, tired or want to sleep.
Do anti-epileptic drugs affect memory?
Memory problems can sometimes happen due to the side effects of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Drowsiness or concentration problems can affect your short-term memory, and may make it more difficult to learn and store new information.
You may be more likely to have memory problems if you take high doses or more than one type of AED. Memory difficulties rarely disappear completely following drug changes. If you are concerned about the effect of medication on your memory, you could talk to your doctor or specialist.
Other things that can affect memory
Mood and concentration
Often the way you feel can affect how well you are able to remember information. Feeling confident or happy can affect the way the brain works by increasing your ability to concentrate and take in information. If you feel anxious or stressed it may be more likely that your brain will have difficulties at the ‘learning’ stage. Also, when you have trouble recalling information, worrying might make it harder to find the correct information.
Lack of sleep
Tiredness, lack of sleep or feeling unwell can affect concentration and memory. For some people, lack of sleep can make them more likely to have seizures, for others it may be that seizures during the night cause tiredness. Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to memory difficulties.
During sleep our brains process information and experiences. Research suggests that getting good quality sleep can help to make memories more stable and preserve our long-term memory.
If you have problems with sleep you could talk to your GP or consultant about referral to a specialist sleep clinic.
As we get older, storing and recalling information can be more difficult. This might be because of the way the brain changes physically, and also because the demands on our memory can change.
Managing different areas of your life such as work, family, study and social life, can be complicated and may increase the chance of you forgetting things.
It can be helpful to know what aspects of your memory are better than others and what factors affect your memory.
Memory problems are frequently reported following surgery for epilepsy. This is most common with surgery to the temporal lobe. Even if the surgery stops your seizures from happening, you may have memory problems afterwards.
The NHS can provide memory assessments to people with memory problems. Assessments are usually done by neuropsychologists who can suggest ways to manage memory difficulties.
If you think a memory assessment would be helpful, you can ask your GP or specialist to refer you for one.
Taken from our Memory leaflet. Order this leaflet from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.