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How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Memory?


How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Memory?

People with bipolar disorder often report issues with their memory, thinking, and concentration. This is a mental health disorder that, like most others, can severely impair a person’s ability to carry out their responsibilities and daily routines. When something as frustrating as memory loss is added to the mix, finding relief from bipolar disorder can be crucial. So, how does bipolar disorder affect memory? What are the root causes?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. This condition is believed to occur due to a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain structure and chemistry.

People with bipolar disorder experience both episodes of severe depression and episodes of mania, which include overwhelming joy, excitement, happiness, energy, reduced need for sleep, and reduced inhibitions. The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder are unique to the individual, and no two diagnoses are the same. 

These mood episodes can last for days to months at a time and may also be associated with suicidal thoughts, especially during depressive moods. These mood swings can be triggered by a variety of things, including lack of sleep, stress, changes to your daily routine, or jet lag when traveling. 

How Does Bipolar Disorder Cause Memory Loss?

Scientists have found a distinct link between bipolar disorder and forgetfulness. What’s more, many people with bipolar disorder report memory loss and or difficulty remembering things. 

These individuals may have trouble with short and long-term memory, struggle to think things through at a quick speed, and have difficulty thinking outside of the so-called box. But how does bipolar disorder affect memory? Why does it happen?

Well, researchers believe that depressive and manic episodes are the most common causes of memory loss in patients with bipolar disorder. During manic episodes, the individual may operate at high speeds, making it difficult for them to hard code new information into their memories.

It may also be equally as difficult to access older memories during these episodes. Research suggests that depressive phases of bipolar disorder can create problems with memory, as well. 

When your mind is preoccupied with negative thoughts about yourself, the world, and the future, it can be difficult to concentrate. People in between these phases may also struggle with their memory.

For instance, depression causes memory loss both by occupying the mind and by inhibiting the connectivity between nerve cells. Although memory loss and bipolar disorder meds like lithium have also been linked, the evidence is scarce. 

One study on people who are bipolar and memory issues analyzing a collection of data from similar studies found that people with bipolar disorder specifically struggle with verbal and visuospatial working memory loss.1 Verbal working memory involves the ability to remember something and to perform an activity using this memory. 

For instance, a person who developed bipolar disorder later in life may struggle to remember how to perform certain tasks in their jobs that they learned before developing this condition. Additionally, visuospatial working memory is the capacity to maintain a representation of visuospatial information for a brief period. 

Visuospatial relates to the visual perception of the spatial relationships of objects, a skill that’s needed to identify and understand movement, depth, distance perception, and spatial navigation. Researchers also believe that a possible cause for memory problems in bipolar disorder patients is mood swings or episodes.

It’s common for people with this condition to experience cognitive deficits during manic or depressive episodes. Generally, people with bipolar disorder have shown problems in attention and memory during these episodes. 

With that being said, impairment in attention or short-term memory can interfere with almost every area of a person’s life. Sustained attention, vigilance, and impulse control are often assessed in patients with bipolar disorder. 

Research indicates that those who were in the middle of a depressed or manic phase of their illness produced more errors of attention compared to those who were not experiencing mania or depression.

Specifically, memory loss in bipolar disorder patients is also linked to deficits in regions of the brain like the prefrontal cortices, hippocampus, and caudate/putamen nuclei, each of which plays a role in memory as well as movement, learning, reward, motivation, emotion, and romantic interaction. 

Reductions in brain volume and blood flow in certain regions – such as the hippocampus – in bipolar disorder patients are also associated with deficiencies in memory.

Bipolar Brain Fog

In addition to severe mood swings, people with bipolar disorder may also struggle with the ability to think coherently. Many complain of fuzzy or imprecise thought patterns. This symptom is otherwise referred to as “brain fog.”

Brain fog can occur in anyone with bipolar depression and is often characterized by symptoms like memory lapses, disorganization, groping for words, and difficulty learning new information.

Bipolar brain fog can also be considered a form of memory loss that people with bipolar disorder experience regularly. It can affect every area of a person’s life -  from succeeding in school to correctly paying bills.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

At our inpatient mental health rehab, we take all of our patients’ symptoms into consideration when treating their mental illnesses. Like others, bipolar disorder can be a difficult condition to manage without professional treatment and guidance. 

Our Boca behavioral health center offers bipolar disorder treatment that involves a variety of modalities, including dialectical and cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and more. We even offer family therapy to help the loved ones of our patients heal from the impact mental illness has had on them. 

Our mental health programs are multidimensional and effective forms of treatment that leave no detail behind. If you or someone you care about suspects that they have a mental illness or are searching for effective treatment and recovery resources, Banyan Mental Health is here to help. 

Call our mental health treatment center today at 888-280-4763 to learn how to get started today.

Related Reading: 

Dating Someone with Bipolar Disorder 
How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect The Brain? 
Famous People with Bipolar Disorder 

  • NCBI - Disentangling Working Memory Functioning in Mood States of Bipolar Disorder: A Systematic Review 

  • NCBI - Cognitive and neurological impairment in mood disorders 
  • Alyssa
    Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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