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Memory

Many people with epilepsy report they have problems with their memory. In fact, it’s one of the problems people with epilepsy most often seek help for. In these pages we look at how epilepsy can affect memory, how memory works, and give some hints and tips to help you cope with memory problems.

How can epilepsy affect memory?

There are many reasons why someone with epilepsy might have a problem with their memory.

Seizures

Seizures can affect memory because for memory to work properly the brain needs to continuously monitor itself. Epileptic seizures can interfere with this self-monitoring process at any of the following stages:

  • Before a seizure: memories from before a seizure can be lost as the brain does not store them properly
  • During a seizure: loss of consciousness can stop the brain from recording and storing memories
  • After a seizure: confusion can stop memory from working correctly
  • Between seizures: Some people with epilepsy may have unusual electrical activity in the brain between seizures. This can affect attention and memory function

“After one of my seizures, I couldn't remember anything about my life. Then I heard a song from 1996 on the radio - so I started giving hospital staff details about me as if it was that year!”

Damage to the temporal lobe

Research shows that a large portion of memory is located in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe. So if your epilepsy is caused by a tumour or lesion in the temporal lobe, this can also cause memory problems.

Epilepsy medicine

Some epilepsy medicines may affect your memory, because they can slow down the speed at which your brain processes information. On the other hand, epilepsy medicines work to reduce the number of seizures you have. So if you have fewer seizures, this may actually help your memory.

Free online course on wellbeing to help you manage your epilepsy

Wellbeing

The impact of epilepsy on your life might make you feel stressed, anxious or depressed. Seizures or your epilepsy medicine might affect your sleep. All these things can cause memory problems.

How are people with memory problems affected?

Memory problems can affect people in different ways. Some people find that most areas of their memory are affected. Other people have very specific problems that only affect one area of memory, such as remembering people’s names.

“I have difficulty finding everyday words. I always seem to be apologising and saying 'that thingy' or 'doodah' to describe what I mean.”

Memory problems can have a big impact on your life, causing problems in education, work, everyday life and relationships. They might make you feel embarrassed, anxious or depressed. While a memory problem cannot usually be cured, it is possible to adapt, making it easier to cope and live a relatively normal life.

“The memory loss for me is the worst part of my epilepsy. I have learnt to live with the seizures but the memory loss is frightening.”

Memory problems and work

We hear from lots of people with epilepsy who worry about the impact memory problems have on their work. Many of the hints and tips for improving your memory can be used in the workplace. It can help to talk to your employer and your colleagues about any extra support you might need. In the UK, if your employer knows about your epilepsy they must make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job. We have more information about reasonable adjustments in our epilepsy and work section.

“When I went back to work I used a diary all the time and had tick-lists, which my colleagues ended up using as well!”

“Setting aside an hour a week to run through next week’s plans works well for me. It doesn’t so much help store and recall ‘when and where’, but it’s a place to look.”

Memory problems and education

A study of school children with active epilepsy in West Sussex found that over half of the children had problems with memory. If your child has memory problems they may find learning more difficult, and may need extra support at school to help them remember what they are being taught. If you feel your child may have memory problems you should discuss these issues with the school. We have more information about epilepsy in schools.

The Centre for Working Memory and Learning at the University of York carries out research into memory and learning in childhood. Their website has information for parents and teachers, including a guide to supporting children with memory problems in the classroom.

If you are in higher education and have memory problems, you could speak to the college or university disability advisor about adjustments to help you. This could include recording lectures or being given extra time in exams. We have more information about epilepsy in higher education.

“The disability support services at my university provided me with a dictaphone and I was able to record all my lectures. I also would use my phone to record myself, and then right up to an exam I would put my headphones in and listen to myself right up until the exam door.”

“For a tough exam last year I spent a while changing catchy song lyrics to facts and theories and then listened on repeat. It definitely helped!”

Find out more about how memory works.

Read our hints and tips for coping with memory problems.

Code: 
B099.03

This information has been adapted from the booklet Memory and epilepsy, produced by Epilepsy Action and written by Professor Gus Baker and colleagues at the University of Liverpool. It has been updated by Epilepsy Action’s advice and information team, with input from people living with epilepsy. Download the Memory and epilepsy booklet.

Professor Gus Baker has no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated August 2018
    To be reviewed August 2020

Comments: read the 5 comments or add yours

Comments

My teenage son takes Epilem to control seizures since developing full seizures at the age of 13, previous to this he had childhood absences. He has had concentration and memory problems for about three years now. Is there any epilepsy medicine which would work better for his memory problems.

Submitted by Maureen on

Hi Maureen,

Thank you for your question. 

It would be best to talk to your son’s epilepsy specialist about this. There are various epilepsy medicines and the doctor will need to choose the one that will suit your son’s seizure type. Most epilepsy medicines may affect the memory but the risk of getting side-effects varies from person to person. 

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm. 

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I've incurred discrimination and nastiness in the workplace on the grounds of my memory difficulties (associated with temporal lobe epilepsy). If I could do it all again, I'd have claimed every benefit possible from day one. (I wouldn't get any benefits now). Fortunately work from home - or homeworking - is becoming more commonplace.

Submitted by RM on

I am 56 years old (I think) I have had epilepsy since I was 3. Grand mal seizures. Until 1979 I was on Phenobarbital,Dialntian and DDexidrine. I then was experiment with Depekote and it totally changed everything I went on to college the world got better. I still continued to have seizures once a month. I started vimpat and Depekane ( I think I am getting the medications correct). I had surgery done and went to seizure every 3 months but ringing in my ears,forgetfullness, I am not happy or sad. For years I have been on Vimpat,tegretol and Depekane (except vimpat they are generic). My memory has plummeted. I am scared of alzheimers or something equal to alzheimers. Is there anything I can do or try.

Submitted by Robin on

I have short term memory loss , mumble my words at time and I can’t remember hardly any of my childhood I’m only 36! I feel a little isolated at times . My seizures have been controlled since I was 24 if not longer I’ve forgotten now :-) , is it my medication destroying my memory I’m on epilim and lamotrogine. To discuss with anyone other than people suffering the same long term illness is a waste of time they haven’t got a clue
I don’t sleep any longer than 4 - 5 hours every night that’s been for the last 3 years they have presciribed me metrazapine but that turns me into a zombie the next day and it still doesn’t help me to sleep anyway! I am Kind of used to it now having suxh little sleep. I am constantly of a low mood “depressed” it’s effecting work , home and my temper is really bad ! Feel like I’m fighting a losing battle at times where I feel isolated from everyone around me . No one understands unless you have this affliction what dramatic effect it has on your entire life ... not even the ones closest to you understand they just think I’m being moody or I hate my job ! All the problems listed on here on this site I have but my seizures are controlled touch wood..... i am not sure anything can be done except exercise and keep my mind active but it’s so draining at times it’s unreal !

Submitted by david on

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