Memory difficulties and brain tumours
1 in 2 people we spoke to experienced memory difficulties caused by a brain tumour or its treatment.
It’s important to remember that not everybody who is affected by a brain tumour will experience memory difficulties.
For those that do, the symptoms and severity can differ from person to person, so you may not have the same problems as someone with a similar diagnosis and treatment plan.
What memory difficulties could I experience?
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 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).
Concerned about your memory?
Test and track your short-term memory with the BRIAN snap challenge. It takes 20 seconds and you’ll see how your score changes from day to day. You can use the results to talk to your consultant or GP if you have concerns.
What causes 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.
Carol Rutherford, diagnosed with a low grade meningioma in 2012
“I was on holiday and went to get money from a cashpoint while my husband waited in the car. Suddenly I had a very frightening experience of complete memory loss. Two hours later I remembered enough to make my way back to our hotel, where I found my worried husband.
“The tumour was discovered after we returned home. I had an emergency operation and was off work for 8 months after my diagnosis, as the episodes of memory loss knocked my confidence. It took a long time to get it back – to be confident in my own abilities and not be worried about going out alone.
“But I’ve built myself back up, using my hobbies as recovery tools. I love meditation, gentle yoga and reading. I’m determined to make the most of my life now. I’m closer with some of my family now and, though I’ve always tried to have a ‘seize the day’ attitude, this has become even more important.
“I’ve even ticked some things off my bucket list, including returning to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago Pilgrims’ route with 3 friends.“
Join one of our Online Support Communities for more stories and tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis from people who know what you’re going through.
Effect of treatment
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.
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.
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Coping with memory difficulties
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.
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 our Online Support Communities for more tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis, from people who truly understand what you’re going through.
Download our memory difficulties factsheet
Find more information on memory difficulties in our full fact sheet.
Find more information on memory difficulties in our clear print fact sheet.
Support and Information Services
You can also join our active online community.
In this section
If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.
Living with memory loss
Jennifer’s shares her experience of memory difficulties after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Let’s Talk About Brain Tumours
If you or someone you know is struggling with memory difficulties after a brain tumour diagnosis, you may want to listen to a new episode of our podcast, Let’s Talk About Brain Tumours, which is all about memory.
Share your experiences and help create change
By taking part in our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys and sharing your experiences, you can help us improve treatment and care for everyone affected by a brain tumour.