Bipolar and memory loss is a common theme I see in my office. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder, not a behavioral disorder. The primary reason memory is effected in people with bipolar disorder is because the brain controls memory and the brain structures in bipolar people are different.
Deficits in executive function, learning and attention have all been clearly associated with bipolar disorder. It is therefore, no surprise that memory and bipolar disorder are also related.
Bipolar and memory loss are related because the steps the process of acquiring and retrieving memory are impacted by the illness.
In order to have good memory, you need to pay attention and concentrate to hear and get the information you need. You then need to be able to store information and finally to retrieve it. Bipolar seems to affect all of these components of memory. In addition to this the key areas of the brain involved in memory are those that are shown to be structurally different in bipolar disordered patients.
So why is this important?
The memory and bipolar relationship is important to you if you have bipolar child or a loved one with bipolar. Understanding the relationship should help you be compassionate about the difficulties you or your loved one are having.
This is a medical condition. You need to give as much patience and understanding to bipolar and memory loss limitations as you would to those of a stroke victim.
Using this same analogy, You also need to put as much effort towards developing methods and skills to assist yourself or your loved ones with these deficits as you would to a stroke victim.
Incredibly, studies have also suggested that treatment with lithium has helped to either slow down , prevent or reverse some of the structural changes in the brain. Does this mean that if you work at developing memory and other skills that you could change the structure of your brain? I think that is possible.
Forgetting your medication can be a pretty big issue. I have worked with many intelligent and competent bipolar people who have trouble remembering to do this. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if this is an issue for you. Remember there is a physical reason for much of your difficulties, but that is not an excuse to not to the best you can to manage your illness. Enlist in the help of family members and friends to help ensure you take your medication.
Short term memory
Write it down! One of the children I work with frequently would interrupt family session with unrelated ideas. One day we spoke with him about the inappropriateness of this and he replied he was afraid he was going to forget! As a solution we gave him a pad to write down his ideas on. This really seemed to help. It may be that you need visual aids in several places to remind you thoughts, conversations,or ideas that you have. You even may need to write things down during conversations so you can remember what you were talking about. There is no shame at all to working on managing the effects of bipolar and memory loss in this way!
Use several different sources for reminders. You can have reminders taped to several places of your house. It is likely that the more visual the better, but you may also need auditory reminders, such as alarm clocks during certain times during the day.Utilize technology! There are many free programs on the internet that offer calendars with reminders. For example Google calendar . Also you can keep online to do lists with a program like tadalist to help with bipolar and memory loss.
Amnesia. Rages in children and Emotional Events for Adults?
In addition to the day to day troubles with memory that children and adults with bipolar disorder have, There is also a unique problem with memory that people who work with bipolar children have observed.
Families and children I work with will often say after a rage their child has difficulty with remembering what happened. Although parents often believe this is a child’s way of avoiding taking responsibility, the pattern seems too frequently observed in my office to be attributable to that. In fact so much of their rages to me seem seizure like. Seizures have been known to cause these kinds of memory issues.
In the past, I thought the memory and bipolar connection was related only to rages. Many of the children would claim not to have remembered many details around the events that happened. They knew something bad had happened, it involved them getting angry and that their parents were upset with them. Recently I have also been told by the adults that I had treated as children reported gaps in their memories that seemed related to highly charged emotional events.
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