Memory and Learning strategies

Poor memory  is a common problem for many people with epilepsy. In children, it impacts their ability to learn and function well in school.  Memory involves three parts— putting information in, storing the information and getting the information out. Disruption at any one of the stages will result in faulty recall.

There are many possible reasons for memory problems with epilepsy. Seizure activity itself can disrupt the process. In addition, a person may experience low grade abnormal brain wave activity that is too subtle to cause a seizure, but can disrupt concentration and memory. Attention disorders are not unusual in children with epilepsy and poor attention will lead to poor retention of material. Sleep disturbances are also not unusual with epilepsy. When the stages of sleep are disturbed, information is not properly stored. Whatever the cause, memory problems make learning very frustrating. Understanding these difficulties by teachers and parents is crucial for effective learning experiences and supportive learning environments.

Memory Techniques

The most useful way to improve memory is to develop techniques and strategies that work around the problem:

  • Compensate for the weak parts of memory with the strong parts e.g.,
    • Use pictures to help you remember if visual memory is stronger (as in left temporal lobe epilepsy)
    • Use sounds to help you remember, if auditory memory is stronger, (as in right temporal lobe epilepsy)
  • Tell others you have a memory problem and rely on them
  • Have reasonable expectations
  • Manage your moods and stress levels
  • Pay close attention to the things you want to remember
  • Repeat the information more than once (the more ways you practice it the better it will stick)
  • Organize the material into logical groups and categories
    • Highlight, colour code, etc.
  • Link information to something meaningful
  • Use a consistent approach to learning across environments
  • Use recognition cues to facilitate recall
  • Use closed questions with a limited number of correct responses
  • Work around “down times” and allow rest periods
  • Monitor for changes in consciousness
  • Music training (recent research has shown an increase in verbal memory through music lessons)
  • Use memory aids: Write things down, record them, sticky notes, use alarms, beepers or technology
  • Word associations with pictures or smells
  • Rhymes and songs
  • Active participation with the material
    • Asking questions and giving examples
  • Establish a routine
  • Monitor how much information the student can process
    • Decrease the amount and rate given at one time
    • If necessary break information into parts to teach it – chunking
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