Memory and Epilepsy


Memory is a complex process that occurs within our brain. It allows us to store, retain and recall information and experiences. Although not all people living with epilepsy experience memory difficulties, it is one of the most common challenges faced by those living with epilepsy.

The impact of epilepsy is variable – some people are greatly affected while others are not.

Possible Causes of Memory Difficulties

There are many different factors affecting Memory these include;


  1. The underlying cause of the epilepsy
  2. Frequency and severity of the seizure
  3. Undetected seizure activity ( sub-clinical)
  4. Psychosocial factors (mood /drugs/expectations and frustrations



  • Left temporal lobe epilepsy can cause difficulty with verbal memory, while right temporal lobe epilepsy can cause difficulty with visual memory.
  • Frontal lobe epilepsy can also produce memory problems. This can be due to difficulties with organising and structuring information or a short attention span.
  • Medication can contribute to memory difficulties by affecting concentration and processing speed.
  • Seizures themselves and the recovery period can also impede memory.
  • If someone loses consciousness during a seizure, they won’t be able to form new memories based on what is going on around them.
  • Unusual brain activity between seizures can disrupt thinking and memory making.
  • Damage to the brain (particularly the hippocampus) is often connected to problems with memory. In some cases it is unclear if the damage is due to epilepsy or if the epilepsy was triggered by the damage.


Surgery can result in memory changes in some people, but not everyone. In fact, many people can have surgery and experience no noticeable change in their memory.

There are many factors that help determine if surgery will lead to memory challenges, including:


  • how memory was functioning before surgery
  • where in the brain the surgery will take place
  • how much surgery the neurosurgeons will do


Even if it is likely that there will be memory change due to surgery, there is no guarantee that a person’s memory will be affected when they have surgery.


  • Anti- seizure medication-memory problems can be more frequent with older anti-seizure medications like Phenobarbital or Tegretol. Many of the newer medications tend to have fewer side effects. One exception is that some people taking Topamax have trouble with concentration and attention, which can affect memory. When anti-seizure medications affect memory, it is often related to the dosage. In those cases, the memory problems are likely reversible if a doctor reduces the prescribed dosage or prescribes another medication. Of course, controlling seizures with the right medication is important too.

Possible Indicators of Memory Difficulties

  • Difficulty following and recalling instructions.
  • Difficulty matching names to faces or objects.
  • Easily frustrated.
  • Finds it difficult to stay on task due to losing track.
  • Confused about what they are meant to be doing.
  • Reluctant to participate in class activities/games.
  • Reluctant to have a go at new tasks.
  • Difficulty transferring learned skills to other settings.

How Teachers Can Help

  • Have a structured environment and routine wherever possible.
  • Identify the student’s preferred learning style and use it to support their learning.
  • Always provide written instructions to support verbal instructions.
  • Encourage the student to use organisational tools such as a daily timetable or diary.
  • Allow for processing time when asking the student for a response.
  • Practise and review new information and processes regularly.
  • Provide the student with immediate and frequent feedback to encourage them to stay on task.

How to Improve Memory

Diet and Exercise

People who eat a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals and lower in fat and cholesterol tend to have better thinking and memory abilities.

After light to moderate exercise, people have a brief period of improved memory. People who maintain a semi-regular exercise routine where they get up and move around may have better memory function than those who don’t have some regular activity.

Reduce Stress

High levels of stress can cause an increase in the hormone cortisol.  Small amounts of cortisol for a brief period of time can be helpful. High levels of cortisol over a long time can worsen memory. Luckily, the effects of increased cortisol tend to be reversible once stress is reduced. Stress reduction can sometimes help improve memory.

Try activities that relax you and make you feel better. You could try meditation, yoga, massage and other relaxing activities.

Memory Strategies

Speak with your doctor. A change of medication or the time of the day you take your medication might help. Think positive. Take care of yourself, if you are tired your brain isn’t going to work as well. Stay active socially and intellectually. Be honest with friends and family members about memory lapses.


Some handy strategies to assist you in your day to day living are:

  • Diaries
  • Calendar messages
  • Post-it notes (most visible place  fridge ,bathroom mirror)
  • Organiser/calculator
  • Pin board
  • Lists –daily
  • Placing items like keys and personal belongings in a familiar spot eg. Bowl/basket
  • Alarm watch
  • Switching fingers
  • Elastic on the wrist


Most importantly ‘don’t give up’ be ready to re-learn.



Courtesy of the Epilepsy Ottowa – Memory 2016 Courtesy of Epilepsy Foundation- 1373 Memory and Epilepsy June 2016