How memory works

Throughout our lives, memories are being made, stored and found by our brain. Links made between our brain cells help us to remember the thoughts, skills, experiences and knowledge that make each of us unique. Memory can be one of the key issues that affects people with epilepsy.

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.

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.

Types of memory

Long-term memory

This is information stored over a long time. There are many types of long-term memory:

  • Semantic memory - this is memory of knowledge and facts about people, places and things. For example, recalling that a banana is a yellow fruit, or that Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland.
  • Episodic memory - this is memory about events or episodes in our lives. For example, conversations, holidays or recalling your first day at school. Episodic memories are personal and different for everyone.
  • Prospective memory - this is memory for doing things in the future. For example, recalling a doctor’s appointment next week or sending a card for a friend’s birthday.
  • Procedural memory - this is memory for skills and how to do things. For example, knowing how to ride a bike or to tie a shoelace. These tasks often require effort to learn but once learnt are rarely forgotten.

Short-term memory

Also called 'working memory' or 'attention span', short-term memory is information that is only kept for the length of time you need to use it. Most people can usually keep about seven to nine letters, words or numbers in their mind at once. An example of your short-term memory working is remembering a telephone number while you dial. Because you only need this type of information for a short time your brain doesn’t store it. This type of information is easily forgotten unless we try to store it in our memory.

Taken from our Memory leaflet. Order this leaflet from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer, or download the pdf using the link below.

Information produced: April 2019