Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Bipolar disorder can come with memory issues due to the disorder and sometimes due to the treatment. If you are experiencing memory loss due to Bipolar disorder, we encourage you to seek advice from a medical professional for that symptom and any other symptom. Still, this article can help give you some background information to better inform you about the causes and solutions surrounding Bipolar memory loss.
The Array Of Bipolar Symptoms
Bipolar disorder is notable for its array of symptoms. People with Bipolar disorder report difficulties with diet, sleep, socializing, workplace troubles, and memory issues or concentration. Not everybody with Bipolar disorder reports all of these issues. If you have memory loss, it does not necessarily mean that you have Bipolar disorder. Conversely, if you have Bipolar disorder, you may not suffer from memory loss.
This paper from 2012 discusses the array of issues that a person with Bipolar may face. It describes a “cycle” in which difficulty with one symptom can impact the others. For example, difficulties with memory can make a person with Bipolar disorder forget social arrangements, dietary restrictions, and work or school tasks. Memory loss is one of the many symptoms that can greatly affect a person’s life. This is an important point during the discussion about solutions for memory loss.
Bipolar Memory With Bipolar Episodes
Memory loss is reported with Bipolar disorder during mania, depression, mixed episodes, and stability times. Sufferers describe racing thoughts during mania, distractibility, and anxiety, all of which can worsen the memory issues. As mood episodes worsen, the memory issues can worsen as well, though some memory issues are always present.
If you think you may be suffering from Bipolar disorder, here is a free diagnostic test: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/Bipolar_disorder-test. This test can be the first step in your journey to determine if you need some assistance in managing mental illness symptoms.
The Neuroscience Behind Memory Loss
The neuroscience behind Bipolar memory loss is complex, and researchers continue to work to determine how memory loss with Bipolar patients occurs. However, there is much to be done, and no clear answers have surfaced. Researchers can only speculate which parts of the brain are most affected to cause memory loss with Bipolar disorder.
Part of what makes this problem so difficult is that researchers continue to learn how a neurotypical brain stores memory. Neuroscience shows that memory is stored in multiple places. The current theory points to the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex as the most likely affected areas. Imaging tests were used that can show the variations of blood flow in the brain.
As science grows and develops, there will be more to say about the neuroscience behind memory loss. For now, the important takeaway is that multiple parts of the brain are affected. This impacts how memory loss manifests itself.
Types Of Memory Loss
Another complicating factor to defining Bipolar memory loss is that there are several ways to lose memory. You may have a very weak memory in one area, but you may be strong in another area. All of these factors complicate treatment and diagnosis. Here are some of the major memory types and how they are shaped by Bipolar disorder.
Executive functioning centers around planning and prioritizing tasks. Executive functioning can be a consistent area of disability for people with Bipolar, and it is one of the most common areas of struggle for Bipolar patients. Difficulties with executive functioning can be a crucial area of dysfunction because someone with Bipolar disorder may lose track of time and thoughts in the middle of getting ready to leave the house or struggle with keeping up with a work task. This can be extremely debilitating in day to day life, especially for work and school. Executive functioning is most heavily affected by those people with Bipolar I who suffered from psychosis.
Working memory is a similar type of memory to executive functioning. Working memory stores information for a short time while a person completes a task. This could be a new acquaintance’s name, a telephone number, or a grocery list. One study from 2017 showed that working memory was heavily affected consistently, as in before, during, and after Bipolar episodes.
Declarative Memory is affected when people with Bipolar disorder have a hard time recounting events, even if they were just there. A ballgame, a movie, a date, the stories acquired by a neurotypical person may fall through the cracks for a Bipolar person.
Verbal memory centers around words that are seen or heard. Someone with Bipolar disorder may have a harder time memorizing something for a test or a job.
Treatments For Bipolar Disorder Affecting Memory
Most people diagnosed with Bipolar disorder take medications to treat the disease. Many researchers believe that these medications can adversely affect the memory of a person with Bipolar, however more research needs to be done. Usually the positive effects of medications are greater than the negatives effects on memory that some drugs are reported to have.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is an increasingly common form of treatment for Bipolar disorder. Many clinicians have expressed concern about the patient’s memory regarding events before the treatment, holding new memories after the treatment, verbal memory, and working memory. While many find that it comes with difficult memory loss, research, including this study, shows that ECT is safe and effective, particularly for those who have not responded to other treatments.
If you or a loved one feel as though a medication or treatment is affecting your memory, please be sure to speak to your doctor. You should especially talk to a doctor before you consider stopping the medication or treatment because there are often specific ways to wean yourself off of medications.
Overall Causes Of Bipolar Memory Loss
Given the wide range of symptoms and issues with Bipolar disorder, the many parts of the brain that affect memory, and the many types of memory that exists, it is extremely difficult for researchers to pin down the causes of Bipolar memory loss. There are so many factors, variables, and issues involved, that scientists cannot clearly define which parts of memory are affected by Bipolar disorder. However, there is a lot of progress on brain scans, and researchers are learning more and more about what causes Bipolar memory loss.
Solutions To Bipolar Memory Loss
If you are experiencing a Bipolar episode, coming to stability is the number one priority for your memory. Bipolar episodes are almost always going to make your memory issues worse. If you are in the middle of a Bipolar episode, please seek a medical professional's help. Furthermore, if your memory loss is caused by medications and treatment, please talk to your doctor as well. The following tips and tidbits are for those with Bipolar disorder whose memories are not primarily being damaged by a crisis or other issue for a medical professional.
Tips For Working Around A Bad Memory
First and foremost, try to write things down if you are having problems with memory. Keep track of your appointments, names, numbers, to-do lists, shopping lists, etc., on a notepad or a smartphone. You can have one list for daily activities, another for weekly, and one for long-term commitments.
Try to record a bunch of stuff. For example, record every time you eat out. You may find that you are eating out too often or hardly at all! By keeping track of spending, you will have a better idea of when to save and splurge. Difficulties with tracking money are quite common with memory issues.
Get organized! You can start with simple stuff, like assigning a counter space for your keys and wallet. By organizing, you can work around misplacing things all the time. If you always leave everything in the same spot, it will be much harder to lose.
Tips For Improving Memory
As mentioned above, there is often a cyclical nature to Bipolar symptoms. One symptom is affected by all the others, and that same symptom impacts the others too.
The bad news is that problems with memory might make your diet worse, sleep sporadic, job difficult, and so forth.
The really good and exciting news is that by taking care of your overall mental health through lifestyle changes, socialization, stress management, and work with professionals, you can improve your memory.
Even when ignoring the influence of Bipolar disorder, memory, and memory loss are complex issues in neuroscience. There are many types of memory and areas of the brain affected, so the causes and solutions of memory issues are hard to pin down. However, by pursuing a treatment plan with your doctor, memory issues can be managed and maybe even improved.