Memory problems are common in bipolar disorder, as is cognitive decline. It makes sense, really. If our brains fail when it comes to mood and its related symptoms, why wouldn’t they fail in other ways as well? Although people don’t like to talk about it. People enjoy the narrative that people with bipolar disorder are smarter than others (which is not true), while the reality, which is that people with bipolar disorder also have a disorder, is something that people likes to hide But people with bipolar disorder have cognitive and memory problems.
Memory problems in bipolar disorder
There are several types of memory that researchers test for, but overall, people with bipolar disorder have memory problems. Memory problems in bipolar disorder include:
Years of studies go on and on. One of the most interesting things to keep in mind is that memory problems in people with bipolar disorder are often present. even during euthymia (not during hypomania, mania, or depression). This means that the memory problems are related to bipolar disorder and not to a specific mood.
As for me, I know I have memory problems and they have gotten worse over time. I feel like I can’t remember something from one moment to the next. I’m constantly looking for things I know but can’t remember. It’s beyond frustrating.
Cognitive deficits in people with bipolar disorder
Like memory, researchers study many domains of cognition, and bipolar disorder has been shown to create impairment in multiple types of cognitive functioning. Most of the articles linked above also talk about problems with cognitive functioning. The aspect of cognitive functioning that I see a lot is problems in executive function. Many details of bipolar disorder and problems with executive function have been studied to the point that executive dysfunction has even been shown in descendants of people with bipolar disorder.
According to Medical News Today, executive function skills help people complete tasks and interact with others. They include a variety of abilities, such as:
- Planification and organization
- Concentrate and manage mental focus.
- Analyze and process information.
- Manage emotions and behavior.
- remembering details
- Manage time
- solving problems
Executive dysfunction affects some of these abilities, affecting a person’s ability to manage and organize to achieve goals.
In other words, it’s no wonder people with bipolar disorder have such a hard time planning, moving forward, and achieving goals.
Fighting memory problems and cognitive problems in bipolar disorder
An interesting study showed that exercise can actually improve cognitive functions. This study was conducted in healthy people, not people with bipolar disorder, so care should be taken when generalizing its results to a different population, but it is possible that this could be a useful technique to help with cognitive decline found in bipolar disorder.
Other interesting little study showed that cognitive performance and brain health in people with bipolar disorder improved after eight hours of cognitive reasoning training. (The training provided information processing strategies that were implemented and applied to various contexts of daily life). This is actually very good news because it means that we can, at least partially, learn to work our way out of some of the cognitive decline.
Coping skills with memory problems and cognitive problems in bipolar disorder
There are many coping skills that I have used when dealing with memory problems and cognitive decline. Here are a few I’ve used or gleaned from others:
- bring a tape recorder (you can use your cell phone) and record absolutely any complex thoughts you have so you can come back to them later. (Note that on a cell phone, you can usually name your recordings. This is useful for organizing and coming back to them later.) (Thanks Penny.)
- Repeat the things you need to remember.. Repeat things in your head to try to remember them better. Sometimes you can also associate an image with what you need to remember. For example, if I have to remember that I took a medicine at 8:30, I imagine a clock with that time so I can remember it later.
- Write everything down on sticky notes so you can put them in your house and have the information where you need it.
- Put the things you need to remember where you (perhaps literally) will stumble upon them.. For example, put pill bottles in the sink so that when you wash your hands, it’s impossible to miss them and you remember to take your medications. Similarly, I lock my bedroom door with things I need to remember for the next day. I can’t leave my room without seeing them.
- Write down the steps when planning something more complex. Then you can refer to it later.
- Schedule your phone or computer with reminders and tasks to complete each day. If you have to schedule it for noon every day to take your midday medication, then do that.
- write lists for everything, including your priorities. It feels great to check something off a list (really).
- Browse life skills courses offered through mental health organizations. You might even get very lucky and find information problems for cognitive remediation (to help repair cognitive dysfunction).
- Learn about project management. Search online for a self-paced course or even take a course at your local learning annex. Planning strategies for a project are just like the ones you can use in your life.
(If you have a favorite technique, leave it in the comments).
Finally, try to be kind when memory or cognitive problems arise. All the coping skills in the world are not enough for everything. All the attempts in the world will not be enough to solve everything. You have to be willing to give yourself a break when you are imperfect. The extra pressure on yourself won’t help, I promise.
So, in summary, if you find that you have memory problems with bipolar disorder or cognitive problems with bipolar disorder, it’s not just you; they are absolutely real things. That being said, you can try to improve its effects and deal with them more effectively.
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