This is a common question asked by people with bipolar disorder. I’ve always wanted to know why there is such a strong connection between bipolar and memory loss. There’s a lot of information on this topic and, it can get very confusing trying to find a clear-cut answer. So, here’s what I’ve learned about bipolar disorder and memory loss. I’ve compressed the main points together.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Memory Loss
Memory loss in bipolar disorder can be attributed to three things – a depressive stage, a manic stage, and being in between both. Researchers also say memory loss can be a common side-effect of medication. For example, many people complain about Lithium and how after increasing the dosage they experience short-term memory loss.
During each of those three phases, your brain chemistry is changing quickly and transitioning between two completely different extremes – manic and depressive. The transition will affect your ability to retain information.
During this stage, your brain is racing through information. Whenever I’m in a manic state, I’m jumping from one topic to another and this reduces my ability to retain information efficiently. Your brain is wired to store information after it’s processed it thoroughly, but in mania, before the processing is complete, you’ve already jumped into another topic.
“Patients operating at high speeds due to mania have a hard time encoding new information into their memories and also show difficulty accessing memories.” – everydayhealth.com
When depressed, your memory loss is attributed to spending too much time on negative thoughts. The lack of attention on things happening around you lowers your retention rate. As mentioned, since your mind will only store information after thoroughly processing it, focusing on negative thoughts for long periods will result in other information being missed.
“When your mind is preoccupied with negative thoughts about yourself, your world, your future, you aren’t as able to concentrate and [be] in the moment,” says Michael Thase, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia. “If your mind is occupied at one level, there’s less capacity to pay attention and encode and store information.” – everydayhealth.com
Over the years, more research is pointing to the in-between state of bipolar. For example, when your mood is shifting from one extreme to another. Bipolar causes erupt changes in your brain’s chemicals, and the constant high’s then low’s can shock the brain. There’s not enough information to conclude this yet, but researchers are paying closer attention to this area.
Do you notice memory loss taking place right before a manic phase?
Lithium and Memory Loss
This medication affects the levels of Serotonin in the brain. People diagnosed with bipolar have either too high or too low Serotonin levels. Low levels will cause depression, and high levels will cause mania. Lithium is prescribed to lower the levels of Serotonin, but I believe Lithium in high doses will cause a Serotonin imbalance increasing the chances of short-term memory loss. For example, after doing research, I found that memory loss (amnesia) is number 12 on the Top 20 Side Effects of LITHIUM CARBONATE.
The intensity of your memory loss will differ depending on your age, dosage, and length of treatment. The best advice, if experiencing memory loss, is to discuss your treatment options with your doctor.