Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a very common disorder, and it can come with a range of challenges. If your child lives with ADHD, you may notice that they struggle with memory in addition to other symptoms.
Perhaps, they don't remember to put their clothes in the laundry - even though you told them to do so very recently, in a timeframe where most people wouldn't forget. Maybe, they forgot the tools that they needed for school that day, or for an afterschool activity, despite doing the same thing the day before and reaping the consequences.
It isn't intentional that people with ADHD forget, and it can be troublesome for the person who lives with ADHD just as much as it might be confusing to the people around them at times.
So, why does this happen? How does ADHD impact memory exactly, and even more importantly, what can be done to help? Let's talk about it.
Does ADHD Impact Memory?
ADHD does impact memory. Even in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, symptoms such as forgetfulness and frequent difficulty remembering items that are needed for life activities (such as your car keys or school supplies) are documented and used for the diagnosis of the disorder. Other ADHD symptoms, like making seemingly careless mistakes, difficulty with tasks that require sustained mental focus or concentration, and trouble following through with instructions, may relate to memory.
This isn't just hearsay, nor is it uncommon. In fact, studies reveal that the majority of children with ADHD struggle with poor working memory. This is an issue that often persists into adulthood and can impact a person's life in serious ways. Short-term memory can also be a battle. But, what does all of that mean?
Working memory refers to the ability to remember and employ small pieces of information in order to execute cognitive tasks. Examples of how you might use working memory include but are not limited to remembering the ingredients that you have already placed in a bowl while you are baking or cooking, remembering a phone number or email address for long enough to write it down, or remembering the numbers that a teacher wants you to add or subtract for long enough to write it down and complete the equation in class.
Short-term memory is similar and refers to the ability to remember small pieces of information on a short-term basis but not necessarily manipulate or employ them. Examples of how you might use short-term memory include remembering where you parked the car, remembering school supplies, or remembering what you ate for breakfast that morning.
So, although some people may be able to make a "mental note" to take the garbage out later or put the clothes in the dryer, someone with ADHD may not be able to do that and may need an external cue to help them, such as an alarm on their phone.
Memory Deficits and ADHD
Similar to how ADHD can affect short-term memory and working memory, ADHD is affiliated with memory deficits or a less strong long-term memory when compared to the rest of the general population. This, too, can be frustrating and can lead to problems in various areas of a person's life, including at school, at work, the home, and in social settings.
There are other health conditions and concerns that may affect memory, some of which have a higher prevalence among those who live with an ADHD diagnosis. If you feel that something else could be going on in addition to ADHD - for example, if you feel that you or your child might also meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder - this is something that you may explore with a professional. People of all ages who have ADHD can struggle with ADHD-related memory loss and challenges.
With it in mind that these challenges often don't go away with age and are a common characteristic of ADHD in teens and adults as well as children, learning to work with and manage ADHD-related memory loss and other problems related to memory is vital.
Managing ADHD-Related Memory Deficits
ADHD-related memory deficits can be frustrating for the person experiencing them. It can be tempting to think to yourself, "no, I will remember - I don't need help/charts/to write it down/etc.," which is why one of the first steps to managing ADHD-related memory difficulties is to recognize and accept that that is what's happening.
Once you do, there are tips that can help you improve your memory or manage memory loss. Think of where ADHD-related memory challenges show up for you or your child most and how to mitigate it.
There's nothing wrong with using techniques or external means to remember information such as that which a child might need for school, tasks, or scheduling (it's common for people with ADHD to overbook or double book themselves), and self-awareness that this is something you face matters.
Tips to Improve Your Memory
If the impacts that ADHD has on memory are affecting your or your child's life, what can you do? Finding what works to help you remember the things you need to is an example of working with one's brain rather than against it when it comes to ADHD and anything else, for that matter, that could affect a person's memory. Here are some tips to improve your memory with ADHD:
Stick to a routine
Building a routine can be incredibly valuable for those who live with ADHD. If you or your child forgets to engage in daily life or self-care activities, such as brushing one's teeth, taking medication, doing homework, feeding the dog, or packing lunch, creating and maintaining a consistent routine can be particularly necessary.
The contents of your routine itself can also be supportive in aiding memory for those who live with ADHD. For example, making sure you get enough sleep, eating nutritious food regularly, and physical activity may all support memory and can be advantageous alongside ADHD treatments.
Use external tools
Apps, alarms, sticky notes, lists, and charts (such as chore or routine charts that can help your child remember what tasks they've done and have left to do that day) can all be beneficial. These can also help you implement new routines.
Treat ADHD symptoms
Treatment for ADHD - specifically, stimulant medication, in this case - is shown to reduce memory-related trouble in individuals who live with ADHD. Stimulant medications for ADHD can be used for those aged six and older, and they are proven to help with symptom reduction in 70% to 80% of children who live with ADHD.
Before you start, stop, or change a medication routine, make sure to consult with your or your child's prescribing doctor. They can answer any questions you have and provide individualized guidance and advice, as well as referrals to other professionals if needed. Occupational therapy and behavioral therapy conducted by professionals who specialize in ADHD are also helpful for ADHD symptoms and may aid success in daily life activities.
Play memory games
Memory games, and games designed to help with ADHD symptoms at large, can both be helpful for individuals who live with ADHD. Memory is like a muscle in the sense that, when you use it, you strengthen it. This is why many older adults who wish to protect or improve their memory play games that are known to support memory. However, this can be a useful practice for people of all ages who want to better their memory.
Mnemonics, also called mnemonic devices, refer to memory techniques that systematically change material that's difficult to remember into material that is easier to remember. Most likely, you know of or have used a mnemonic or mnemonic device without knowing it, as they're often taught in school.
For example, the mnemonic "Roy G. Biv" is often used for school-aged children who are learning the order of the colors of the rainbow; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Like acronyms, songs and rhymes are commonly used as mnemonic devices, which can be particularly useful for those with ADHD because they are stimulating and engaging ways to remember and rehash information.
Educational TV shows and games may include songs that help kids remember facts about history, how to do certain math problems, like those related to multiplication, and other important pieces of information, which is another common example of where you may have come across them in the past. You can use existing mnemonics or create your own.
Tell other people
There are times when letting other people know that memory is something you or your child struggles with, and why, may be beneficial. This could look like providing your child's school with documentation of their ADHD and the way it impacts their life and learning, or if it is you who struggles with memory, it may look like letting your loved ones know that you sometimes have difficulty with memory and may ask the same question or tell the same story twice.
Not only will this help you or your child, but it can lead to an increase in understanding from other people in your or your child's life who don't have a great deal of knowledge about ADHD.
It can take trial and error to find what works for a unique individual or their family, and some of the tools you use to support memory in those with ADHD can be altered based on age. It is possible to curb memory-related symptoms, and at-home methods, as well as professional care, can help.
ADHD can impact memory. This is a fact that is both well-known and backed by research, and it can be disruptive to the lives of those who have ADHD. However, there are things that can help people with ADHD, including both children and adults, manage concerns such as memory loss and trouble with working memory or short-term memory.