Memory can be one of the key issues that affects people with epilepsy. This can be for many reasons, including the type of seizures they have, the effects of medication, the effects of epilepsy on concentration or mood, lack of sleep, age, or the effects of epilepsy surgery.
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.
Three stages of memory
Making and using memories involves three stages: learning the information, storing it, then recalling it. Memory can be affected if any of these stages are disrupted, for example by a break in concentration.
This is when you want to learn something new, such as a friend’s new address. It may involve repeating the address several times or linking it to an existing memory. For example, linking the address – '1 Albert Square' to the television show Eastenders.
This is when the information learnt is stored permanently in the brain.
Recalling (finding the information)
This is the brain’s way of finding and using the information that has been learnt. For example, remembering a friend’s new address when sending a letter.
Memory aids, reminders and brain training
Consultant neuropsychologist, Dr Sallie Baxendale, gives a presentation on coping with memory problems for people with epilepsy. Watch now.
Memory aids may help you to cope with memory problems. Different aids or reminders may suit different types of memory problems and they work best if they are used regularly as part of a routine. Here are some ideas.
Sticky notes, such as Post it Notes™ can help you to remember to do things. For example, sticking a note to the front door to remind you to pick up your keys before you go out.
Using a calendar can be helpful, particularly if it is placed somewhere you will see it easily and often, such as on the fridge door.
Diaries, journals and ‘to do’ lists
Using a diary can help you to keep note of appointments, birthdays or phone numbers. Keeping more detailed notes in a diary may be helpful to keep track of people you have met, where you have been and what you did. A diary can also be a handy way of recording seizures.
A 'to do’ list can be useful to record daily tasks, for example phone calls to make, bills to pay. Email, mobile phones and computer software often include diaries and 'to do' lists.