How epilepsy can affect memory
It is not unusual for people who have epilepsy to have memory problems, which usually happen for a number reasons.
How epilepsy may affect memory
It is not unusual for people with epilepsy to have memory problems, which usually happen for a number of reasons.
The cause of your seizures may also be the cause of some of your memory difficulties. Memory difficulties and seizures may both be symptoms of the same underlying problem in the brain.
It is normal to have little or no memory of events that happen during a seizure. This is because the brain is not able to store new memories during a seizure.
It can take a while for the brain to completely recover from a seizure, so memory can be disrupted for some time afterwards for some people.
Any type of epileptic seizure could potentially affect your memory, either during, or after, the seizure.
If you have lots of seizures, particularly in a short space of time, your memory can be disrupted for a longer period of time. This may happen if the brain doesn’t have enough time to recover fully between the seizures.
Some people have generalised seizures that affect all of the brain. Others have focal seizures that affect only part of the brain. Some people have both generalised and focal seizures.
The brain has two halves called hemispheres. Each half has four parts called lobes: the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.
Abnormalities in the temporal or frontal lobes of the brain are the most common reason for memory problems in people with epilepsy, but memory problems can happen in all types of epilepsy.
The types of memory problems you have will depend on the cause of your seizures and the part of your brain that is affected.
- People with temporal lobe epilepsy often have difficulty taking in new information.
- Frontal lobe epilepsy may make it difficult to recall events from the past.
However, all kinds of memory difficulties can occur in all kinds of epilepsy. It really depends on how your epilepsy affects you.
After a seizure
You may have difficulty remembering information straight after a seizure. The length of time it takes for memory to return to normal can vary from person to person.
Does medication affect memory?
Memory difficulties can happen due to the side effects of some anti-seizure medications (ASMs). Drowsiness, or concentration problems, caused by ASMs, can affect your short-term memory, and may make it difficult to take in and store new information.
You may be more likely to have memory difficulties if you take high doses, or more than one type, of ASM. Changing ASM may sometimes help to reduce memory problems but they rarely disappear completely.
If you are concerned about the effect of ASM on your memory, you could talk to your doctor or specialist.
What else can affect memory?
Mood and concentration
Often the way you feel can affect how well you are able to remember information. Feeling confident and happy can affect the way your 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 having seizures during the night causes tiredness.
Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to memory difficulties. During sleep our brains process information and experiences.
Research suggests that getting good sleep can help to make memories more stable and preserve long-term memory.
If you have problems with sleep you could talk to your GP or consultant about being referred to a specialist sleep clinic.
As we get older, storing and recalling information can be more difficult. This is a completely normal part of ageing.
People with epilepsy might notice these difficulties earlier than others, as they may already be aware that they are having memory problems.
These changes happen because the brain changes physically throughout our lives, 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.
Understanding what your memory issues are, may help you develop strategies to manage memory difficulties in everyday life.
There are risks to memory from brain surgery. Any risks will be different for everyone and your doctors will explain beforehand what the risks are for you. Even if the surgery stops your seizures from happening, you may have memory problems afterwards.
Epilepsy Society is grateful to Professor Sallie Baxendale, Consultant Neuropsychologist, UCLH, London and Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, University College London, who reviewed this information.
Information updated: March 2023
Anyone can have difficulty remembering information. Keeping your brain alert and active is a good thing but, on its own, it may not necessarily improve memory.
Memory is the brain’s ability to store information and find it again later. Chemical and electrical changes happen in the brain when new memories are made.