Bipolar Memory Loss and What to Do About It
Bipolar disorder brings lots of challenges — memory loss is one of them. When I was first diagnosed back in 2008, I struggled with remembering things and my concentration was impacted.
I had no idea my mental health was deteriorating, but strange things were happening. In my workplace I was making lots of mistakes and running up and down two flights of stairs to fetch work I’d printed out but forgotten about.
At home, it became a habit for my cleaner to hand me my house keys, which had been left in my front door overnight. I used to lose everything and spend time frantically trying to find things. This used to make me late, which would stress me out and make me even worse.
The problem was I blamed myself. I thought I was going mad and had no idea my brain was struggling because I had a serious mental illness.
Even after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder I used to fight against my difficulties, trying desperately to concentrate and remember things, but often to no avail. Beating myself up became a daily thing and I used to cry because I was told things over and over but unfortunately I simply could not retain the information.
So Why Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Our Memory?
Our memory is a cognitive skill, which is part of our patterns of thinking that allows us to perform tasks. They include short- and long-term memory, concentration, decision-making and processing speed.
Problems with these skills can have a serious effect on a person’s behavior. Symptoms include indecision, memory problems, disorganization and difficulty concentrating. Does this sound like you?
I know I can concur with all of these functions. What is interesting is that all these cognitive functions can be disrupted by the same neurotransmitter disturbances that cause mood swings.
As bipolar is a mood disorder, research shows that our cognition will be affected as part of the illness. Bipolar cognitive impairment will impact our ability to work, study and forge personal relationships.
What Parts of Our Memory Are Affected?
Working memory is the area that research shows is most affected by bipolar. It is the short-term storage of information whilst we are performing tasks.
One theory is that people with bipolar experience signaling problems in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, including personality, decision-making and social behavior.
Studies show that when the prefrontal cortex does not function properly with the amygdala — which is responsible in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional reactions — it leads to mood swings. It also disrupts the executive functioning (mental skills that help to get things done) and information processing.
When Can We Experience Memory Problems?
Some people can experience severe memory problems and some milder. As we know, we are all different and our illness can affect us in different ways.
Bipolar episodes impact our memory loss, and the significance can be dependent on whether we are depressed or manic.
For example, when depressed our cognitive functions are much slower and it is harder to retain information. At the same time when we are manic our brain is racing and we filter out anything we deem to be unimportant.
Fliss’s Experience With Bipolar Brain Fog
I remember in the depths of depression wondering how I could complete the smallest of tasks. One day I stared at an egg and a frying pan and tried to remember the stages required to poach an egg. I simply couldn’t think.
I’ve also found myself staring at the kettle and a cup before, struggling to work out how to make a cup of tea. It was a frustrating and upsetting experience because no matter how hard I tried to make my brain work, it just wouldn’t.
How Meds Affect Our Memory
Medication plays a huge factor. I have been trialed on many mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, which can impact cognition.
The introduction of tablets has, at times, made my mind flit, making it impossible to concentrate. I have also been left with mind blanks and found it impossible to make decisions.