Thinking, Learning and Memory

Studying boy
Community Corner: September 3, 2014

Epilepsy News From:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As you or your child return to school (or work), have you noticed problems remembering new information? Keeping track of your things or finding your way around new places? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. Thinking, learning and memory problems are frequently reported by people with epilepsy and seizures. If you or your loved ones notice these, read on and share your observations with your health care team. There are ways to help.  

What types of thinking and memory problems are seen most often in people with epilepsy?

Problems with memory can be due to many factors. These could be due to the way seizures act on the brain, other cognitive or mood problems, or side effects of medicines.

  • Often difficulty paying attention or keeping your attention focused is a key reason why information does not get into the brain so you can remember and use it later.
  • Another common problem is difficulty remembering recent events. You may remember what happened a while ago, but not what you were told to do for homework tonight!
  • Some people notice that they forget things more quickly than they used to. Some research has shown that people with seizures involving the temporal lobes of the brain tend to forget things more quickly than others.
  • Maybe you have trouble keeping up at school or work. You might need more time to understand and process information.
  • Or maybe you can remember okay but you can’t say it the way you want. Some people notice problems finding the right words, mixing up words or explaining things clearly. They remember and know the information, but language problems make it difficult to say it.
  • Read more about Memory Complaints

What causes these problems?

Often there is more than one cause to learning and memory problems. If you are having any of these problems, get a check-up at your doctor’s office. She can help sort this out. Sometimes other medical problems could be part of the problem.  Or you may need a more detailed look at the seizures, medicines and learning problems. 

  • Seizures can affect the way the brain works in many ways. Seizures that begin or involve areas of the brain with thinking, paying attention, remembering, understanding and talking could certainly affect how you do in school or work.
  • Problems could also be related to underlying neurological problems. Whatever is giving rise to seizures could also affect learning and memory or other function.
  • We used to think that these problems happened in people who had epilepsy for a long time or those with frequent seizures. We now know that some children with newly diagnosed seizures may also report learning or behavior problems and that these could be present before the seizures. Maybe there is a separate problem that needs to be treated?
  • Some seizure medications can cause problems with attention, memory, thinking, or finding words. If you have recently started a new medicine or had the amount of medicine changed, talk to your health care team. They can help you look at whether the dose or drug may need to be changed. Do NOT change the medicine on your own though as you could have more seizures. And maybe it’s the seizures that are causing the problems?
  • Changes in mood and sleep problems also can lead to similar types of cognitive problems.  If you are feeling more anxious, down, sad or having difficulty sleeping, tell your health care team. These problems need to be addressed too.
  • Read more about Causes of Memory Problems

What can I do to think and remember better?

How to treat these problems will depend in large part on the cause. See your general medical doctor first. Then see your epilepsy specialist to relook at your medicines, seizure types, mood and other factors.

More detailed neuropsychology testing may be needed if the problems don’t go away, seizures continue, or the cognitive problems are affecting your daily activities and performance at school, work or play.

Here are some techniques to help you think, learn and remember:

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is critical for learning. Having consistent sleep times is better than napping during the day. But if you need it, a short “power nap” in the afternoon may help you study later in the day.
  • Eat well and don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. This is important for everyone, not just people with seizures.
  • Get organized – set up your locker at school (or desk at work) so you can find things easily. Hang your schedule in an easy to see place to help you stay on track. Use an accordion folder to organize papers or to do lists for different classes or projects.
  • Consider how you use electronics. Can you use a tablet in school? If yes, set up your calendar and folders online so you always have the information with you.
  • Look at where you sit in the classroom. Sitting in the front of the room will make paying attention easier than in the middle or back of the room.
  • Make a To Do List each day with priorities. Then make sure to check it frequently.
  • Look at your study habits. Where and when do you do homework? Do you have a quiet space? Organizing your study space and habits can be a big help.
  • Talk to your family, teachers or employer if you are having troubles keeping up. Maybe tutoring would help in school or working in smaller groups? Sometimes changing the times you take certain classes helps so you aren’t taking the hardest classes when you are most tired.
  • Read more about Memory Techniques

Cognitive problems are one of the most frequent problems for people with seizures. This information just introduced the topic. If you have any of these concerns, read more and talk to your health care team.  Find out what types of problems you are having, why and what do to. There may not be a complete “fix” but there are ways to make it better.

Have a safe week!

Best wishes,

Patty Osborne Shafer RN, MN
Associate Editor/ Community Manager

Authored by: Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN on 9/2014

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