PTSD and Short-Term Memory Loss
Wednesday, January 24 2018 Tia Hollowood
For many individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), short-term memory loss is a significant concern. While working to calm and organize memories of trauma, individuals with PTSD may also struggle to recall simple, everyday information. Short-term memory loss can leave an individual with PTSD with concerns over deteriorating cognitive functioning, and uncertainty about just how much forgetfulness is reasonable and how much becomes a medical concern.
How to Identify Short-Term Memory Loss from PTSD
Short-term memory loss with PTSD results in symptoms we often label as "forgetful." Have you ever forgotten if you've fed a pet, why you walked into a room, or if you took your medications? All of these are related to short-term memory. Short-term memory declines with age but is distinguishable from memory issues related to dementia by the type of information that is forgotten.
With short-term memory, reminders can help you recall what you did or said, or it may come back to you later. With advancing dementia, the ability to recollect how to use everyday objects, the names of familiar people, and how to perform typical tasks such as buttoning a shirt can become impossible. In the following video, I discuss some examples of how my PTSD challenges my short-term memory.
PTSD, the Hippocampus, and Short-Term Memory
The culprit involved with short-term memory challenges and PTSD is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an organ in the brain that regulates emotions, stores long-term memories and helps us distinguish old memories from new. Studies of individuals with PTSD have found that PTSD damages the hippocampus, reducing it in volume by an average of eight percent. Not only does PTSD lead to flashbacks, anxiety and disjointed memories of traumatic events, PTSD also damages the brain's ability to convert short-term memories into long-term memories.
PTSD, SSRIs, and Short Term Memory
There have been several studies on the impact of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), medications commonly prescribed to individuals with PTSD, on short-term memory loss. The results of these studies have varied from indicating that SSRIs actually may improve memory skills to demonstrating that SSRIs result in a loss of working memory skills in as little as two months after beginning the medication. While the verdict is still out on the potential for long-term damage to memory skills, there is enough evidence to discuss any concerns over how SSRIs may impact your memory with your doctor.
How to Improve PTSD-Related Short-Term Memory Loss
Here are a few simple strategies for improving your PTSD-related short-term memory problems:
- Reduce the stress in your environment. Stress decreases our ability to focus on what we are doing. Take a few moments to rest and regroup when you find yourself frequently forgetful. It may help to jot down all of your concerns and set them aside to deal with later.
- Make notes for yourself, and keep them somewhere organized and easy to access. I made a mistake once of keeping some of my reminders on paper and others online. I was always missing something because I would fail to check both of my reminder lists.
- Take each task to completion with as little distraction as possible. If you're headed for the kitchen to get water, think about what glass to use, or how cold you want it. Pay attention to the little things so often done without thinking because we're busy planning out the rest of the things we need to accomplish.
If your concerns about your memory are impacting your ability to carry on with your regular daily routine, or if loved ones are expressing concerns over your recall, discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional. There are many other causes of short-term memory loss.