Living with memory loss
Watch Jennifer's story about her experience of memory difficulties after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Not everyone with a brain tumour will experience memory difficulties, and for those that do, the symptoms and severity will differ. Learn more about how brain tumours can affect memory and read top tips to help cope with memory loss.
Get a copy of our Brain Tumour Information Pack to help you feel confident when discussing treatment and care options with your medical team.
Our brain controls all of our cognitive functions including reasoning, attention, language and memory.
Memory is our ability to take in and store information, as well as to recall that information at a later time. Memory is one of our cognitive functions. It is our ability to take in and store information, as well as to recall that information at a later time. There are two types of memory:
This is when we remember things from a few seconds ago, such as the name of a person we just met. Short term memory lasts for approximately 20 seconds. A short term memory can be forgotten after those few seconds or can be converted into long term memory, depending on the importance and circumstances.
This allows us to recall information from the past, whether it is a minute ago, a year ago or many decades ago. It can be divided into three sub-types:
Not everyone with a brain tumour will experience memory difficulties, but if you do, it will mainly depend on:
The effects of memory difficulties and their severity differs from person to person. If you display memory problems, you will usually be referred to a neuropsychologist or clinical psychologist who will run various memory tests to help identify which part of your memory functioning has been affected and to provide you ways of coping.
Multiple areas of the brain are involved in storing and recalling different types of memories. For this reason, it is not always possible to accurately predict if and how a person's memory will be affected by a brain tumour. However, two areas of the brain are particularly involved in memory – the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe. If a tumour is in these areas of the brain it may be more likely to affect memory.
Neurosurgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can all have an effect on the brain that may, in turn, affect memory. Again, the effects of treatment will vary from person to person.
Surgery on the brain may cause some temporary swelling which may affect cognition in general, including memory. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may also affect cognition and energy levels in general. Side-effects caused by radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy could last for weeks and sometimes even months after treatment has ended.
Memory difficulties are sometimes referred to as 'amnesia'. The two most common types of amnesia are:
Identifying exactly what kind of memory difficulties you are affected by can help you and your health team devise a coping strategy aimed at reducing the impact of these problems on your everyday life. You may find the following suggestions useful:
Our energy levels affect how well we function mentally. Getting a good amount of sleep (6-8 hours) and eating regular, healthy meals can help improve your capacity to memorise and recall memories.
Memory difficulties may affect your ability to undertake complex and energy-demanding activities. It is important for you to know your limits and avoid overworking yourself to the point of feeling confused and anxious.
A diary is a good way to keep track of your appointments and any other arrangements you may have planned. It may be useful to get into the habit of writing everything down and checking your diary regularly. You can also use alarms on watches or mobile phones to remind you of specific tasks or appointments or even just to remind you to check your diary.
If you are taking prescription medication you may wish to buy a medication organiser or pill box. Medication organisers and pill boxes will allow you to track what you have to take and by when. These are available from most pharmacies.
Try to develop a set routine and try to leave items in the same places around your home so that you know where to look for them. For example, if you have difficulty finding your house keys, try to always leave them in the same drawer or try leaving a note on the door reminding you to take them.
Reminder notes can help you with things you might otherwise forget, for example, you could leave yourself a note by the front door reminding you to check that windows are closed and that the hob is off before you leave the house or you can leave a note on your bedside table at night reminding you to check you have locked up.
For easy access, you could store useful telephone numbers in your phone or on a single piece of paper. You could list an 'in case of emergency' (ICE) number in your phone so that someone else can find it for you even if you can't.
For more information on how to cope with memory difficulties visit the American Brain Tumour Association website.
Read more about other changes you might experience, such as fatigue, and get tips on how to cope with brain tumour side effects.
Page last reviewed: 05/2016
Next review date: 05/2019
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:
0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)
01252 749 999
Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00
You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.