8 Things to Know About PTSD and Memory Loss

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a mental condition affecting millions of people in the United States alone. Occurring after a traumatic event or experience, PTSD consists of a variety of mental, emotional, and physiological symptoms that cause distress and interfere with life. Commonly these symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks or anxiety, insomnia, changes in mood, and avoidance of triggering places or situations.


Memory loss also plays a large role in PTSD symptoms. PTSD affects the way the brain processes and organizes memories; it is common for individuals to experience memory loss during the time surrounding the traumatic event. Additionally, when an individual is burdened with mental and sensory information from the past (i.e. flashbacks) it can interfere with the processing of new memories as well. If you or a loved one is dealing with PTSD, it’s important to understand the relationship between the two. These are some of the ways memory loss might be impacting an individual with PTSD:


1. PTSD and your hippocampus don’t get along

Research shows that the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion and memories, shrinks as much as 8% of its original size in individuals with PTSD. Memory loss caused by a damaged hippocampus can increase anxiety, flashbacks, and disjointed perceptions of the past. It also can interfere with the creation of new long-term memories. Fortunately, this change is not permanent, and the hippocampus can be repaired with treatment.


2. More than just forgetfulness

Individuals experiencing memory loss related to PTSD will be affected in ways more serious than just being forgetful. PTSD related memory loss can make it difficult to remember lists or facts, can make memory seem fragmented or disorganized, or can lead to large gaps in memory altogether. These issues can have a serious impact on daily functioning, and one might not realize that these problems are related to PTSD.


3. PTSD interferes with sleep and relaxation

Often times, symptoms like flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares can make it extremely difficult to get quality sleep at night. As the process of storing new memories becomes disrupted, often times the trauma stays fresh, making it difficult to let the body rest. Individuals who are repeatedly re-experiencing their trauma and are less able to solidify new memories will often struggle with insomnia and an inability to feel relaxed, which only puts more stress on the body and mind.


4. PTSD affects your perception of current events and places

The disruptions in memory can impact how an individual interprets current place and time. PTSD can reduce one’s capacity to sort out environmental context and distinguish new and old memories. This can make it more difficult to remain calm when reminded of trauma. This experience is often what leads individuals to avoid certain places or situations, even if it significantly hinders daily functioning or lifestyle.


5. Memory loss around the traumatic event is common

Individuals with PTSD may find it difficult to chronologically recount their traumatic experience. This can be frustrating and make it challenging to share their experience with others, leading to feelings of isolation. Distortion and gaps in memory can make an individual feel unable to connect with or relate to others.


6. Memory loss affects emotions

Your emotions and memories are processed in the same location within your brain, so the two are closely related. When your brain is affected by PTSD related memory loss, the way you process emotions is also affected. This can make it difficult for one to identify their own needs and the needs of others, and often interferes with personal relationships.


7. Memory loss can affect language skills

Some individuals with PTSD may experience what is known as aphasia, a reduced ability to speak or understand language caused by brain damage. This can make it difficult to understand speech or express ideas with words. Aphasia often leads to feeling isolated or unable to connect with others, which can promote social withdrawal.


8. Memory loss can lead to shame

It is common for an individual experiencing memory loss to feel shame surrounding their struggles. Memory loss can place a strain on social relationships and isolate the individual. It’s important for individuals to seek support and healthy coping mechanisms rather than withdrawing from others.


When dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder, it’s essential to seek immediate and comprehensive treatment. There are a variety of therapies and treatments that help individuals with PTSD process emotions and memories related to their trauma. Bespoke Treatment offers personalized treatment plans for individuals with PTSD that are tailored to the patient’s unique needs and goals. Treatment plans can include a number of psychotherapies as well as alternative treatment options such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and ketamine therapy.


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