We exist to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

What is memory?

Memory is your brain's ability to store information and to find it again later. Memory is divided into:

  • Short-term memory: deals with information that is only kept for the length of time you need it. For example, remembering a phone number for long enough to dial it
  • Long-term memory: deals with any information that is kept for longer than this

"I have found that epilepsy really affects my short-term memory. I can remember things from years ago, but I can't remember what someone told me five minutes ago."

Recording the memory in the first place is called encoding. The information is then passed from short-term to long-term memory for storage. Long-term memory is divided into three types:

  • Procedural memory: Activities which are carried out almost without thinking, for example, riding a bike
  • Semantic memory: Knowledge we have learnt but we are not sure when, for example, capital cities
  • Episodic memory: Personal memories of everyday life

"My long term memory is very much affected. Some pretty important events in my life are either completely gone, or I only remember part of them."

Memory can also be divided into verbal and visual:

  • Verbal memory is your ability to remember things you have heard or read, for example words and sounds
  • Visual memory is your ability to remember things you have seen, for example pictures and faces

When we want to remember something, the information we need is brought back from long-term memory to short-term memory. This is called retrieval.

If we have forgotten something it could be due to problems with:

  • Recording the memory in the first place (encoding)
  • The storing of the memory (storage)
  • Recovering the memory from long-term memory (retrieval)

What causes memory problems?

Everybody can have minor lapses in memory from time to time. Things that can make this more common include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling unwell
  • Feeling stressed or anxious
  • Trying to concentrate on lots of things at once

Also, as we get older, lapses in memory become more common. But sometimes memory problems can be more severe or last for much longer than normal. Some possible reasons for this could include dementia, head injury, stroke or a medical condition such as epilepsy.

"My memory can be so bad that I might be deep in conversation, stop for one second, and completely forget what I was talking about."

How are memory problems assessed?

If you are having problems with your memory, your doctor may suggest carrying out a neuropsychological assessment. Neuropsychological simply means looking at the processes that the brain carries out, one of which is memory. This assessment aims to get an accurate idea of how well your memory is working and is carried out by a psychologist. The assessment will look at your ability to remember pictures, stories and numbers. Through looking at these areas, the psychologist will be able to find out where your memory difficulties lie. They can then suggest what strategies might be most helpful for dealing with your memory problems.

Find out more about epilepsy and memory

Read our hints and tips for coping with memory problems

Code: 
B099.03

Our thanks

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.

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

  • Updated November 2015
    To be reviewed November 2018

Comments: read the 10 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi im sam and im 19.
I was diagnosed with tonic clonic epilepsy about a year ago. Since then ive had multiple close calls to seriously hurting myself. Im just wondering if anyone suffers my symptoms. Basically ill go blank and be able to sleep walk and talk too myself. Last time it hit me i was in the shop and was stood there puking with a vacant expression. The stereotypical corner shop woman tried charging me 50p to get cleaned up the nutter. I have no recollection of getting home and when i did i had a serious grand mal mot even remembering what happened during the day. This is the second time its hit me in the shop. Last time i woke up in hospital again several hours later. I can sleepwalk for a long time not even realising. Anyone have this?

Submitted by Sam on

Dear Sam

Thank you for your comment.  It sounds like you’ve been through some very tough times.

What you’ve explained could be a type of focal seizure. In focal seizures, epileptic activity starts in just part of your brain. You might be aware of what is going on around you in a focal seizure, or you might not. We have heard of people who during a focal seizure carry on with their activity and getting home without knowing how.

If you haven’t already, you may wish to talk to your consultant about these episodes.  If it is epilepsy causing these symptoms, your consultant may be able to do something to help. For example, the may alter your epilepsy medicine dosage or the type of medicine you take.

If we can be of more help please feel free to contact our helpline team. You can phone our freephone helpline on 0808 800 5050 or email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk

Diane Wallace

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team.

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

im in the usa i was a 4.0 student A's good grades then i over stressed and had a seizure it only happened when i was 12 now I'm 14 and it affected the way i think the way i walk and my school life many teachers don't help as you would expect them to. they mostly just give out work sheets and if not they just don't teach well enough for me to understand or just move on to the next lesson and the fact that we have a quiz every 4 days on new things we just learned isn't helping. my teacher once told me that 30 years ago the schools method was way different how students had more freedom,easier lessons more freedom to communicate with the opposite gender (as like them sitting together during lunch) in my middle school we were separated how are we expected to approach a girl if we parents allowed to talk to them at the only time were supposedly have conversations with friends. school isn't a good environment now days and seizures aren't helping..;/

Submitted by fernando on

Hi Fernando
Thank you for your comment. It sounds like you’re having a difficult time at school.

As you live in the USA we can't comment on the schooling method. We also can’t offer information on the support your school should be giving you due to your epilepsy.  May we suggest you contact the Epilepsy Foundation in America. Hopefully they will be able to offer you advice on your education.

All the best for the future

Regards
Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

I have just turned 50 & have been Nocturnal Epileptic since i was 17yrs old. since my epilepsy started i have always found it very difficult remembering peoples names. Because of this it seems to separate/stop me from joining in lots of conversations. this makes me feel like I'm unintelligent as so many things in life are based around peoples Names. When i hear someones name i would like to remember i wish i had 5minites to have a hard think while i try to sink the name into my head/memory. But its never like that, while your listening to the rest of the conversation the Name you wanted to remember disappears out of your head. Any idears anyone??

Submitted by Lee on

Hi Lee
I can see not remembering people’s names is having a big impact on you.

We don’t have information other than the memory strategy pages that you have put this comment on. But I have just put ’how to remember people’s names’ in a search engine and there are a number of results you might want to have a go at..

You could also try asking for suggestions on our online community forum4e.I know there will be many members there who also have problems remembering things.

Hope that helps.

Cherry
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

This is a very useful piece for managing short term memory problems and lists a number of tools that I use myself, but what about long term memory problems?  Probably too difficult to address but with hugely damaging effect on quality of life.Friends can talk about parties and holidays (together with much less significant events) we've been to in the past and I don't have any recollection of them.  Every so often I write a diary to try to record significant events but unless I read it regularly I will forget about what I have written. Plus, what I have written does not work as a prompt to help me remember more detail because that further detail doesn't seem to be there for me to retrieve. Any thoughts?

Submitted by Jane on

Dear Jane
Many thanks for your message. This sounds like a tough situation to find yourself in.

Some people tell us that living with memory problems can be difficult. It is good to hear that you have found our information useful, and that you find using many of the tips and tricks we mention helpful.

Maybe you could talk to your GP about getting a referral for a neuropsychological memory assessment. This will look at all areas of your memory function. It is possible that the medical teams may then be able to suggest additional memory enhancement tools which will be more focused to your specific needs.

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.

Yours Sincerely
Karen Hoather
Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Karen, Epilepsy... on

My husband suffers from epilepsy since we met 20 years ago, I am not sure how long he has had it for.He is on medication and has about one -two episodes a month mostly at nights,and its usually when he is worried about something or if he has had an extremely busy day at work..My concern is his memory is getting worst.He can't remember people's names or directions of places we have been to several times.Please can you direct me to where we can get support on how to learn to manage his memory? Thank you very much.

Submitted by Maggi on

Hello Maggi

Many people tell us that they have difficulties with their memory. It is recognised that people with epilepsy can experience memory difficulties.

It is possible for anybody to experience lapses in their memory at some point in their life, such as during times of stress, periods of illness and when they are doing more than one thing at a time. There are many reasons why a person with epilepsy may experience memory difficulties, and it is recognised that epilepsy can a person’s memory. If you are worried about your husband’s memory at the moment, maybe he could talk to his GP to ask for a memory assessment, which may give him some personalised memory enhancement tools to support you.

Karen
Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Karen@Epilepsy ... on