Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy and Memory… | October 21, 2018

To say that lack of memory is a major worry for those of us with epilepsy is hardly a surprise.

In fact, it’s the number one concern.

Simply put, memory is our brain’s ability to store information and find it again later.

Chemical and electrical changes happen in your brain when new memories are made.

It’s a natural brain process that requires continuing attention and recording by parts of your brain.

Seizures interfere with your memory by interfering with attention or input of information.

Confusion often follows a seizure, and during this foggy time, new memory traces aren’t being laid down in the brain.

Tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures in which you lose consciousness can interfere with normal brain processes and disrupt the registration phase of short-term memory.

Sometimes longer term memories from the period prior to the seizure are lost as well, since these memories may have not yet being fully integrated into your brain’s memory system.

There are many different ways to classify how memory works.

Some people rely more on their verbal memory, remembering in terms of words or sounds, while others use their visual memory, relying on pictures or spatial relationships.

This can be for lots of reasons, including the type of seizures you have, the effects of medication, the effect of concentration or mood, lack of sleep, age, or the effect of epilepsy surgery.

Common everyday memory problems include:

  1. Being unable to come up with a word that we feel is “on the tip of our tongue”, apparently because of a verbal memory processing problem.
  2. Having to go back to check to see if something was done, such as turning off the stove, probably reflecting a failure to pay adequate attention at the time.
  3. Forgetting where we put something, probably a visual-spatial memory process problem.
  4. A verbal malfunction, where you know the words or names, but just can’t come up with them.
  5. Not remembering what has been said or been told is another.

The types of problems people have vary, and how serious a nuisance the problems are varies from person to person as well.

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 generalized 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 generalized 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.

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.

You may have difficulty remembering information straight after a seizure.

This is sometimes called post-ictal (after-seizure) confusion and it usually goes away once you have recovered.

If you have temporal lobe epilepsy you may have memory difficulties even if your seizures are well controlled.

That’s because the temporal lobe is responsible for creating memories.

Memory problems can sometimes happen due to the side-effects of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).

Drowsiness or attention 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 problems rarely disappear completely following drug changes.

But taking AEDs may help to improve your memory by making seizures less frequent or by stopping them completely.

Mood and concentration can affect your memory.

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’s 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.

For some people, lack of sleep can make them more likely to have seizure.

For others, it may be that seizures during the night cause them to be tired.

Research suggests that getting good quality sleep can help make your memory more stable and preserve long-term memory.

In addition, age itself can affect storing and recalling information.

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.

Then there’s surgery…

Memory problems are frequently reported following surgery for epilepsy.

This is most common with surgery to the temporal lobe.

Memory assessments are carried out before and after surgery.

But even if the surgery stops your seizures from happening, you may have memory problems afterwards.

Assessments are usually done by neuropsychologists who can advise on ways to manage memory difficulties.

Here’s the official lingo:

Long-term memory is information stored over a long time.

Semantic memory is knowledge and facts about people, places and things.

Episodic memory is memory about a specific events or episodes in our lives.

Prospective memory is memory for doing things in the future.

Procedural memory is memory for skills and how to do things.

Short-term memory, which is also called “working memory” or “attention span”, is information that is only kept for the length of time you need to use it.

Getting the information into our memory is called the encoding and then the consolidation process, and the separate process of getting it out again is called “retrieval”.

Some people have a problem getting information into their memory in the first place, while others find the retrieval challenging, and may just need a cue or prompt before they are able to retrieve a memory.

Interestingly, epilepsy-linked memory loss worries more patients than doctors! (Now how would they feel if they were on the other side of the table?)

Patients and doctors agreed overall on three of the top five concerns:

  1. Having a seizure unexpectedly…
  2. The legal right or ability to drive…
  3. Seizures not being controlled.

Doctors ranked problems with medication side-effects as their second-highest concern.

And both groups agreed that having a seizure unexpectedly was the number one concern. 

“In a lot of cases, there was a fair amount of overlap, but the thing that the patients had on their radar screen that practitioners didn’t was the memory issue.

Memory was a concern for a larger percentage of the patients than we had anticipated,” said James McAuley, associate professor of pharmacy practice and neurology at Ohio State University and lead author of a study reported in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior.

“Indirectly, we address memory concerns in the clinic by addressing seizures. But we don’t typically sit down with a patient and say: Tell me about your memory.

This has heightened the awareness of our clinicians and should serve as a wake-up call to all practitioners treating people with epilepsy.

The mantra in our clinic is: No seizures, no side-effects, so uncontrolled seizures are seen as a medical concern by practitioners,” McAuley said.

“Patients tend to not want to have seizures because of the social stigma.

An interesting point in this context is that we believe in the clinic that if we can improve seizures, we will improve memory.”

Scientists plan to delve more deeply into this area of research by exploring what causes are behind memory problems that are reported.

“We’ll try to differentiate the cause of the memory problem and that will help guide us to either increase medication doses to get better control of seizures, decrease doses to eliminate side-effects, or use an antidepressant to address mood,” said McAuley.

“It’s quite a murky area and our goal is to learn more by dissecting the reasons for memory loss.”

I don’t think he’ll forget!

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Other articles of interest:

A neural device to restore memory


9 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Mind















  1. Does this also include petite mal seizures?


    Comment by Amy — October 21, 2018 @ 10:48 AM

  2. Hi Phylis, I over come short term memory issues by writing things down. To do lists, grocery lists, etc…

    Another way i over come it is by having a picture journel and put it in to monthly folders on my computer.


    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Zolt — October 21, 2018 @ 12:24 PM

    • My lists have lists and they keep on having babies!

      I’m too non-tech savvy to figure out computer or smart phone apps to use them as memory aids.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 21, 2018 @ 2:14 PM

  3. Hi Phylis. Thanks for info. I have a terrible memory but recently returned to do tai chi as it helps memory as other things. I handle memory by association. For instance, I am taking the bus today and I wanted to look 4 things up on my smart phone on the bus—taichi, what is on sale at earth origin grocery store-app is apple and read literature on my new CPAP so in order to remember I pictured myself doing taichi eating an apple with head phones on listening to music reading about my CPAP and that is how I remember what I want to do. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mary Jane Levell — October 21, 2018 @ 2:07 PM

  4. Hi Phylis. Great information. I had a lobectomy 12 years ago to regain control of my seizures.This involved most of my left hippocampus (seizure center) being removed. The fascinating part was knowing I had the information in my brain but not being able to get to it. With time, and a demand for the information, my brain started to develop new tracks. The last five years of a ten year recovery included going back to college to earn a Masters degree. Having professors who would work with me was important. For instance all I could remember was the first letter to the answer on fill in the blank question. In my first year, a Professor gave everyone a list (9-10 words-many starting with the same letter) to choose from for each question. Through this I was able to maintain a passing grade. I no longer required any special assistance after four demanding years of study. Staying calm was important for my mind to find the answers. I still struggle with remembering names unless I repeat it a few times and have a desire to remember it. If it doesn’t come back right away I do the alphabet search. Often when I reach the letter the name starts with I can recall it.


    Comment by Jon Sadler — October 21, 2018 @ 3:34 PM

    • Wow! A Masters Degree. That must have been a struggle.

      What courage and confidence you have!

      But, thank goodness for such a wonderful and understanding professor.

      And all the progress you have made.

      BRAVO to you Jon!

      P.S. I still have to go through the alphabet sometimes, to remember words and names.

      Or use mnemonics.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 21, 2018 @ 3:48 PM

  5. In summary…we can’t really win can we? 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Katie — October 21, 2018 @ 3:49 PM

  6. Reblogged this on catsissie.


    Comment by catsissie — October 21, 2018 @ 10:01 PM

  7. Has anyone been worried that trying to remember something will bring on a seizure.

    I find now that it’s very difficult to know the difference between looking for a memory and having a focal.

    It’s frightening as I begin to believe that each time I think back to a memory that it’s a seizure.!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mark — October 25, 2018 @ 6:42 AM

    • Mark, I thing the very stress of trying to remember or find something could act in reverse and actually trigger a seizure.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 25, 2018 @ 10:17 AM

  8. The gene APOE-4, better known as a “gene mutation”, exists in 40% of the people who will get Alzheimer’s. If you have this gene, you have a 40% chance of getting Alzheimer’s, which is even more depressing than just having cognitive impairment. I cannot locate a doctor or a lab that will check my blood for this gene. I simply want to be “prepared” if a greater chance exists for me to get Alzheimer’s. Any input?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phillip — October 26, 2018 @ 4:25 PM

  9. Phylis Feiner Johnson, I know that memory issues are a concern of people who have Epilepsy. I also get that some medications are notorious for causing short-term memory problems. Even if there is no set rule across the board, what would surprise you more-if people had greater memory issues with older Epilepsy medications or those that are more modern? I would like to get your feedback on this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — October 29, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

    • Older meds are thought in many circles to be less efficient than the modern meds. Thus, more side-effects.

      However, that being said, many people prosper on the early generations of AEDs, memory issues or not.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — October 29, 2018 @ 2:48 PM

  10. There are so many reasons doctors will say a memory problem is from the seizures or anything else, except for 1 or a few to many AED’s one is taking. I always say to look what is in all AED’s before committing a lifetime in taking 1, a few, or many of them. Food dyes, & colorings, aka & can be labeled as numbers, metals like ALUMINUM , TALC, & MERCURY to name a few, & other toxins like ASPARTAME & MSG can make memory hell to remember anything, when they all are working as a BIG GROUP of toxic chemicals that attacks any brain of any living thing. Even dogs & cats can have the same problems from the same toxins that triggers or causes seizures. If we would not feed them these toxic foods, then WHY do we seem to feed our brain or a child’s brain what you would not feed a cat or dog ? http://www.dailymed.nlm.nih.gov There you have their drug info where most things the drugs are all made of are listed & for each strength & make from all companies, unless for some question of a specific drug/s that the FDA has not approved it yet. Make sure too that ALL OTC drugs you may be taking, do not trigger a seizure from the toxins in those as well. MOST generic AED’s will be less safe to take than the BRAND NAMES are. That’s why NO GENERICS are used here for seizures or anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by CD — January 7, 2019 @ 7:34 PM

  11. I have problems with short term memory loss at times. This is in part due to medications I take as well as head trauma that I suffered in 1979 from a car accident. I also conquered 2 comas as well as breast cancer. Life has been quite challenging at times (at one point I had to learn how to walk again and talk again after that car accident). But let me tell you, DO NOT give up. If you’re having a lousy day, there’s always tomorrow. What helps me is to regularly do crossword puzzles because that exercises brain recall. Exercising is also a benefit for you. I enjoy Zumba classes as well as bicycling. Pick something you like and ATTACK it. Don’t ever let others discourage you. Best of luck 🤪


    Comment by Alicia Reynolds — July 20, 2019 @ 2:28 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

    View Full Profile →

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