What Epilepsy Does To Your Memory

People suffering from epilepsy commonly have memory problems — especially short-term memory. Sometimes they can be so severe they get in the way of learning and conducting everyday functions. Many have reported difficulty remembering names they once knew, forgetting to take their medication, and forgetting appointments.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system and the brain. The nervous system is the brain’s communication network and controls our thoughts, movement, impressions and memory. Similar to the electrical lines that run throughout your house, nerves dispersed throughout our body sends electrical impulses to the brain for processing. In an epileptic the electrical impulses become imbalanced for some reason and the impulses short circuit, resulting in a seizure.

Doctors have not been able to pinpoint the definite reasons for the seizures, but know the triggers could come from different sources. They could have inherited the propensity for the condition, or maybe have suffered brain damage during or after birth, or sustained some type of brain injury. Although epilepsy can run in families, it is NOT contagious, and limited to the inside of the brain.

When an epileptic suffers a seizure the electrical charges within the brain are out of control. The impulses we receive normally when one neuron connects to another sends off an electrical charge when they connect to another neuron. In an epileptic the charges do not connect, and it causes the body to convulse.

The convulsion could affect the entire body, or a portion of it — depending on where the signals got sidetracked or disconnected. If the disconnect is just on the right side, the left side of your body is affected, and vice versa, since the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side.

Our brains usually run on electrical impulses in a normal and orderly pattern. These impulses travel through messengers called neurotransmitters along our brain’s nerve cells in a network of nerves that comprise the central nervous system. When there is a misfire there are quick and sudden spurts of electricity that leave the orderly pattern and cause a disconnection. When this happens the part of the body associated with that area of the brain experiences a seizure. This seizure could come in the form of repetitive movement of hands and arms, strange noises, incomprehensible words, staring spells or complete convulsion of the body.

Some people are placed on a drug regime that controls the majority of their seizures; while others could be eligible for brain surgery, where a certain area of the brain can be snipped and still allow normal function. Research is also being developed that will deliver electrical impulses to the brain in order to keep the seizures under control.

Most often seizures don’t affect memory, but it depends on where the disconnect takes place. If they start in the temporal lobe it can cause a serious blow to the hippocampus, which is sensitive to brain activity. If the seizures there go untreated the hippocampus “starts to harden and shrink.” Information will be stored in a haphazard way and hard to be recalled, if at all. Luckily, each side of the brain has a hippocampus; so one side usually is able to pick up the slack of the other.

Each patient is affected by seizures in a different way. It is important to receive treatment for the seizures, and keep them under control as much as possible until they can come up with a reason as to their cause.

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.


NPR Health Blog – With Help Teens Can Manage Epilepsy, by Jordan Calms: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/11/29/142866521/with-help-teens-can-manage-epilepsy

Epilepsy Therapy Project — What is Epilepsy?: http://www.epilepsy.com/info/teens_what

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