Memory and Bipolar: What Can You Do About It?

memory and bipolar disorder

The Problem With Memory and Bipolar Disorder

My memory is bad. Really bad. No, actually, it’s terrible. For many of us, memory and bipolar disorder do not go together well. The fact that memory loss is associated with bipolar disorder is nothing new. A recent study partially funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests an “obscure region of the hippocampus called CA2 is important for social memory.” Apparently “Individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have lowered numbers of CA2 inhibitory neurons.” If you’d like to read the study further, you can find it on the NIMH website. It’s short, but dry, so it may be good reading before bedtime.

My entire life I’ve struggled with memory loss. My ex-wife was terrified at times that I would put our baby down and forget her. While it was something she half joked about, her concerns were valid. In addition to the memory loss being a symptom of bipolar disorder, my memory was never as bad as it has been since I’ve gone on a bipolar multi-drug cocktail. Many medications wreak havoc on our memories. My therapist has been concerned. On my next visit he plans to run me through a battery of memory tests. This will be the 3rd time I’ve taken them.

A Solution ?

There may be hope, but it will require some work – Eating right and exercise. A new study by Michigan State University researchers suggests aerobic fitness affects long-term memory. 75 college students were studied during a two-day period and found that those who were less fit had a harder time retaining information. Details of the study are posted on Michigan States online paper, MSU Today
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“The findings show that lower-fit individuals lose more memory across time,” said Kimberly Fenn, study co-author and assistant professor of psychology. “The findings speak to the increasingly sedentary lifestyles found in the United States and other Western cultures. A surprising number of the college students in the study were significantly out of shape and did much worse at retaining information than those who were extremely fit,”

One Caveat

I am going out on a limb here because the study does not say anything about memory and bipolar disorder. I can only share my experience. As many of you know, I allowed the typical medication weight increase to skyrocket me to over 300 pounds. I could not walk to the supermarket across the street without having to stop a minimum of 4 times to catch my breath. I joined Weight Watchers, started exercising and lost 90 pounds. The difference was amazing. Not only did I feel better physically, I felt better mentally. I was more clear headed, had better cognition, and yes, my memory improved. Unfortunately, I stopped working my program and gained nearly half of it back and I’m cloudy headed once again. It will be interesting to see how my upcoming memory test compares to the previous one.

Let’s Here From You

Leave your comments here if you struggle with your memory and bipolar. I’m also interested in hearing from those of you who do not have bipolar disorder. I’m especially interested in what steps you take to combat this problem.

  15 comments for “Memory and Bipolar: What Can You Do About It?

  1. Cat
    May 10, 2014 at 10:41

    My memory is bad, really bad. I have postie notes everywhere. Sometimes I even forget to check my shopping list and can often arrive home without the things I need the most! My weight is becoming a problem and while I like to blame it ALL on the meds, I know it’s a lot to do with comfort eating the wrong things. Interestingly, I’m heavier and more unfit than ever and my memory is at an all time low, so maybe there is some kind of link.

    • Bradley
      May 10, 2014 at 11:42

      I use to put the notes around the house. Probably not a bad habit to get back into. I think weight is usually the catalyst for the weight gain, but then we, (or at least I) stark seeking solace in comfort foods. A couple of the meds I take not only slow my metabolism, but also increase appetite. Bad, bad, bad combination

  2. May 9, 2014 at 21:52

    Dear Bradley, how are you? 🙂

    I’m not back blogging but when I saw this post I had to respond. My ECT treatments have caused me short term memory loss and I hate it. I’ve had them before and it took some time for my brain to fully recover. What my psychiatrist suggested was to down load Luminosity and do it everyday. My memory like yours has never been that great either, but this short test everyday is helping immensely. You may already know of it.

    Hugs to you, Paula xxxx

    • Bradley
      May 9, 2014 at 22:35

      Good to hear from you, Paula. I hope you’re doing well. I most definitely will check out Luminosity. Thanks for the tip.

  3. May 9, 2014 at 14:56

    Thank you for this thought provoking entry. I never once thought that my bad memory could be associated with my bipolar disorder, or my medication induced weight gain. You’ve definitely given me something to ponder. Thanks! (@DarlingNoire)

    • Bradley
      May 9, 2014 at 15:57

      Thank you for your comments and compliments, Gennifer. Hope you’ll stop by often.

  4. May 8, 2014 at 19:41

    Hi Bradley! Long time no see 🙂 I too suffer from memory issues, and I’ve had a lot of ECT which pretty much fries your short-term memory. I’ve been working on my weight too, which has really ballooned since I started on the Clozaril. I’m going to ask my doctor tomorrow to switch me back to Topamax. Topamax has pretty amazing effects on impulse control, which has historically been a big issue for me.

    Thanks for sharing your truth, it is helpful. Big-time. Peach out homie!

    • Bradley
      May 8, 2014 at 20:02

      Hey! Wonderful to hear from you. It has been a long time. Thank you for dropping in. I’ve seen Carrie Fisher speak about it. She talked about how effective it was but spoke about the memory loss.

  5. May 8, 2014 at 15:06

    I hate it when someone indicates to me that there is a link between a problem I’m experiencing and my weight and/or lack of exercise. I hate it because they’re right and because I find it so hard to motivate myself to do anything about it. I can’t remember if my thoughts and memory were clearer when I was at a lower weight, but I do know that on the days I am more physically active, the cogs seem to turn a bit quicker. Ritalin also seems to help me stay clear and focused, but I’m off it for the moment, pending the ending of this hypomanic episode. i think there are a lot of reasons that bipolar people have problems with memory, and I think it’s an important note to bring to the forefront. Well done, my friend!

    • Bradley
      May 8, 2014 at 17:04

      It’s very hard to get motivated, Rose. “Exercise helps ward off depression, but how the hell am I going to exercise when I’m so depressed?” is the big one. My motivation was being told by my doc to get gastric bypass surgery. I’ve done enough research to know that ain’t gonna happen

  6. kat
    May 8, 2014 at 11:38

    i knew there was a link between schizophrenia and bipolar and illness including psychosis and memory issues. i know i have had for me, frustrating and concerning memory issues. but i am so glad of your post, that this is common, and that fitness has a marked effect. very interesting, i will be looking up those links and talking to my provider!

    • kat
      May 8, 2014 at 11:38

      oh also, im now trying to lose some of the med weight, and hope that will help clear my head as it did for you.

    • Bradley
      May 8, 2014 at 12:14

      Good on you for planning to talk to your doctor. It’s always good to hear it’s not just you, isn’t it?

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