Seizures can be caused by a number of medical conditions. Most commonly, seizures are the result of the disorder epilepsy. Other causes of seizures include fever, infection or brain injury. In some instances, seizures have been thought to cause memory loss. The correlation between seizures and memory loss has been studied by researchers to better understand how the two fit together.
Seizures come in several different types: simple partial, complex partial, tonic-clonic or grand mal, absence or petit mal and myoclonic. Myoclonic seizures, according to HealthCommunities.com, occur when muscles suddenly begin to contract, either throughout the body or centrally located in certain muscles. Absence seizures usually affect children and are generalized seizures that can be characterized by blank staring, unresponsiveness or the presence of automatisms like lip-licking or scratching. Simple partial seizures involve a wide range of possible symptoms, including muscle spasms, erratic head movement, incontinence, dizziness and the feeling of being in a dreamlike state. In complex partial seizures, the affected person experiences symptoms as with a simple partial seizure but also loses consciousness. The tonic-clonic seizure is one in which the affected person experiences muscle contraction and relaxation, a loss of consciousness, falling and clenching of the fingers and jaw.
The Epilepsy Support Centre explains that memory comes in either short-term or long-term. Short-term memory is information stored within the brain to be remembered for a few minutes. When information is stored in the brain for longer than this, it is known as long-term memory. Long-term memory comes in three types. Procedural memories are long term-memory actions that can be carried out without consciously thinking about them, such as riding a bike or swimming. Memories stored as procedural memories tend not to be forgotten. Semantic memories are learned throughout a person’s life, such as lessons at school or personal research. Semantic memories include things like the number of inches in a foot or state capitals. Memories that come from personal experiences, such as weddings or vacations, are stored as what is known as episodic memory.
Seizure and Memory Connection
Memories work by using a self-monitoring system within the brain. Seizures, according to Epilepsy Action, disrupt the self-monitoring system in place. This results in temporary memory loss for some people who experience seizures. In the case of people that experience memory loss after seizures, the short-term memories prior to the seizure may be lost because they had yet to be stored in the brain before the onset of a seizure. In addition, memory loss can occur during the seizure, such as with absence seizures. The actions during the seizure may not be remembered by the person experiencing the seizure once it is over. Some epileptics have increased electrical activity within the brain that can also lead to lowered memory function. Epilepsy.com mentions that memory loss can be common for those who experience complex partial seizures, and even more common for those who have tonic-clonic seizures. These memory disruptions are usually short-term and tend not to affect long-term memories.
Long-Term Memory Effects
Since there are exceptions to nearly every rule, there are people who experience disruptions in long-term memory following a series of seizures, or particularly traumatic seizures. As reported in the Sunday Times of London, one such case is Jan Quinlan, who experienced long-term memory loss as the result of her epilepsy. Beki Propst, author of Absent Memories: Moving Forward When You Can’t Look Back, also experienced the erasing of many of her long-term memories following a tonic-clonic seizure, according to ABC News.
Reducing Impact On Memory
By controlling seizures, memory impairment can be reduced. Seizures can be reduced using anti-epileptic medication in many cases. However, as mentioned on Epilepsy Action, some anti-epileptic treatments can also affect memory because of their interference with brain function speed. This is thought to be a small price to pay, however, since reducing the frequency of seizures may be more beneficial than leaving seizures untreated. The website also recommends using external memory aids such as calendars and alarms, as well as keeping notepads handy to jot down any information you may need so that it doesn’t disappear in the event of a seizure.