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Brain tumour memory loss and memory difficulties

Sadly, brain tumours can cause memory loss or memory difficulties. This can sometimes be because of the tumour affecting the brain or possibly because of the tumour’s treatment.

Short summary

1 in 2 people we spoke to experienced memory difficulties or memory loss caused by a brain tumour or its treatment.

But, it’s important to remember that not everybody who is affected by a brain tumour will experience memory difficulties. And, those who do might have different experiences. This is because symptoms and their severity can be different from person to person.

With that in mind, we’ll discuss brain tumour memory loss and memory difficulties below. On this page you’ll find:

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About memory

Memory is our ability to receive information, store it and then remember it in the future. Although there are various types or aspects of memory, it can be split broadly into short-term and long-term memory.

Short-term memories help us remember things from a few seconds ago, such as the name of a person we just met. These are forgotten after around 20 seconds or converted into long-term memories, depending on their importance and the circumstances.

Long-term memories enable us to recall information from the past, whether it’s a minute ago, a year ago or many decades ago.

The types of brain tumour-related memory loss you may experience are:

  • losing memories formed before you had a brain tumour or treatment (also known as retrograde amnesia)
  • difficulty remembering memories formed after you had a brain tumour or treatment (also known as anteretrograde amnesia).

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How can a brain tumour cause memory loss or difficulties?

There are a few different things that could be responsible for brain tumour-related memory loss. The below are common causes of memory difficulties.

Location of the tumour

Many areas of the brain are involved in storing and recalling different types of memories. So, it’s not always possible to accurately predict how someone’s memory will be affected by a brain tumour. 

However, it’s more likely (but not definite) that someone will experience memory loss if their tumour is in the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain.

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Brain tumour and memory loss

Suddenly I didn’t know where I was or why I was there.

Carol Rutherford

Effect of treatment

One of the types of treatment that can cause memory difficulties is neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery can cause some temporary swelling around the brain, so it’s normal to experience memory loss after brain tumour removal or biopsy. 

You may also experience difficulties with your memory after brain surgery if surgeons had to remove brain cells that were responsible for your memory. 

Regaining memory after brain surgery will depend on whether the memory loss is caused by temporary swelling or the removal of brain cells responsible for your memory.

Also, the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can include memory loss and cognitive difficulties. They can also affect your energy levels, which can make it harder to remember things. 

Unfortunately, the side-effects of these treatments can sometimes last weeks and months after treatment has ended.

Side-effects of treatment

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Coping with brain tumour memory loss

There are many ways that you, your loved ones and healthcare team can reduce the effect memory difficulties have on your everyday life, including:

  • using memory aids
  • making adaptations to your environment
  • trying new ways of organising and planning
  • learning about memory techniques.

We’ve collected some ideas about how to cope with memory difficulties that were suggested to us by healthcare professionals and people who are living with a brain tumour.

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Tips from our community

“I use a shared calendar, so people that know me can write any dates we arrange, straight into it. It’s just become a normal thing to do when you make plans with me.”

“When my child’s memory loss was at its worst, we kept a diary together to help them remember what they had and hadn’t done. This helped them stick to a routine.”

“I always try to keep things in the same place, like hanging my bag on the back of the door or leaving my keys on a hook by the front door.”

“It’s simply a matter of time and patience. It’s been a slow process (and I’m not 100% there yet) but after having surgery a year ago, my memory is now much better.”

Join one of our Online Support Communities for more tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis, from people who truly understand what you’re going through.

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Download our memory difficulties factsheet

Memory difficulties and brain tumours – PDF

Find more information on memory difficulties in our full fact sheet.

Memory difficulties and brain tumours – Clear Print – PDF

Find more information on memory difficulties in our clear print fact sheet.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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Jennifer’s shares her experience of memory difficulties after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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