By Jennifer Woolwine

Memory Loss and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Health + Wellness

baghdad to barnyard

March 3, 2021


Since returning home from my deployment in Iraq, writing does not come easy for me. I can’t read or write as fast as I can and am so easily distracted. It’s also why I dropped out of college during my senior year. I have to read and re-read a paragraph three to four times for it to stick, and sometimes it can take longer.  I have difficulty coming up with words and repeating myself a lot. My brain feels tired and foggy all the time.

Memory Loss and PTSD

Many people experience memory loss with post-traumatic stress disorder. People with PTSD often have difficulty remembering details, facts, and events after exposure. I used to think that because I replayed my traumatic events thousands of times in my head that there was no way I would ever forget the details. However, a few years ago, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility and learned that I had memory loss. My memory was distorted regarding some traumatic events I was exposed to.

During treatment, I learned how PTSD affects memory and concentration and how common it is. Some people who experience trauma may remember the traumatic event but not all the details, such as the time or location. Even though the traumatic event is recorded in their memory, specific information may not be. This can make PTSD treatment challenging when you try to retrieve that information later. It’s also possible to remember things that didn’t happen or not the way you think they did.

In this blog post, I will address how PTSD can affect your memory and give tips and tricks to adapt and cope with the changes.

Ways PTSD affects memory loss

  • Difficulty processing daily tasks

  • Problems concentrating or focusing on the task at hand

  • Chronic fatigue, even after a good night’s sleep

  • Memory distortion of the traumatic event

  • Brain feels foggy or cloudy.

  • Difficulty remembering specific dates

  • Forgetting words in the middle of a sentence

  • Forgetting names of friends and family

  • Short-term memory loss

  • Long-term memory loss

  • Disorientation to time and place

  • Difficulty retaining information

Difficulty Concentrating

As a Rating Specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I made the final decisions on veterans’ disability claims. It required reading thousands of medical documents and federal laws and applying them to determine if the veteran was entitled to compensation.

Even though I enjoyed helping veterans, the job was tough for me because of my memory and concentration problems due to my PTSD. I had a hard time keeping up and, unfortunately, had to rely a lot on my coworkers to assist me throughout the day.

I also have trouble with navigation when driving and rely on GPS. Even when we lived in the suburbs in the same house for nine years, I would still get lost or disoriented while driving just around town.

Now that we’ve discussed how PTSD can affect your memory let’s go over some tips for adapting and coping with the changes.

Coping Strategies

  • Develop a routine or schedule

  • Take regular breaks

  • Avoid lots of caffeine.

  • Focus on one task at a time and avoid multitasking

  • You can turn off distractions like television, loud music, and your cell phone when you need to concentrate.

  • Please make daily lists and check off tasks as you complete them.

  • Have a set place at your home, work, and/or school to keep everyday items, like your keys, wallet, important documents, and medication

  • Divide tasks into smaller steps and do one thing at a time before moving on to the next

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

  • Avoid stressful situations

  • Learn ways to reduce stress

  • Download brain games as a fun tool to work on your memory skills

  • Learn mindfulness meditation

  • Set daily reminders on your cellphone

The good news is that both PTSD and memory loss associated with PTSD are treatable. If you have PTSD and experience significant memory impairments, or you suspect you might have memory loss even without a diagnosis of PTSD, please reach out to a healthcare professional.

You don’t have to live with memory loss when you have PTSD. Working with your doctor can help you decide which therapies could be the most beneficial for preventing or reducing your PTSD and memory difficulties.

xo, Jen

Resources:

Memory Problems | Veterans Families United

The Invisible Epidemic: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Memory and the Brain (thedoctorwillseeyounow.com)

Trauma and Memory Loss – How Trauma Affects the Brain and Memory (casapalmera.com)


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Jen Woolwine       Author

Jen is a veteran, wife, farm mama, homesteader, blogger,  and mental health advocate. You can follow her and daily homestead life on Instagram, FB, Pinterest & TikTok @baghdadtobarnyard

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