It’s not just you. Memory loss is common for those living with PTSD. But there are several treatment options to help support your mental health and memory.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition, one that can affect every aspect of a person’s life ― not just emotionally, but also cognitively and physically, as well.

But there’s one PTSD symptom not often discussed that can significantly affect someone’s ability to function in their day-to-day life: memory loss.

People with PTSD are more likely to experience changes in different types of memory, including both long-term and short-term memory.

Ahead, we’ll explore the relationship between PTSD and memory loss, as well as cover some lifestyle changes that can help and offer suggestions for where to find support for this condition.

Research in 2022 has shown that PTSD can affect memory in two primary ways.

First, it can affect a person’s memory of traumatic events, such as causing vivid flashbacks or making it difficult to recall the memory itself.

Second, it can affect a person’s general memory, causing things such as:

One of the reasons that PTSD may have this effect on memory is that trauma can actually produce changes in certain areas of the brain related to the stress response and memory, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.

Because trauma and conditions like PTSD can affect these areas of the brain ― all of which are essential to human memory ― this may explain why people with PTSD experience changes in their memory formation, memory recall, and working memory.

Does PTSD cause dementia or early dementia?

Researchers are still exploring the relationship between PTSD and dementia. However, in a 2019 review, researchers found that developing PTSD in mid-life (ages 40–60) was associated with an increased risk of late-onset dementia.

A 2020 meta-analysis also found that a diagnosis of PTSD resulted in an increased risk of developing dementia ― around 1.6 times for veterans, and 1.9 times for the general population.

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Our ability to form, store, and recall memories is a fascinating and complex skill, and there are multiple areas of the brain that help us hone this skill throughout our lifetime.

It’s no surprise that we actually have different types of memory, both short-term and long-term ― and that PTSD may affect a person’s memory ability in different ways.

For example, in one study from 2022, researchers investigated the link between PTSD diagnoses and symptom severity and the ability to remember everyday activities.

During the study, participants ― with PTSD or trauma — watched and recalled videos of everyday activities. Results of the study showed that participants with more severe PTSD symptoms had more difficulty with memory recall than those with less severe symptoms.

A research review from 2021 explored the relationship between trauma and memory loss in asylum seekers in the United States. Roughly 70% of participants were diagnosed with PTSD, and symptoms of memory loss were present in 20% of participants.

According to the study results, both PTSD and depression were linked with symptoms of memory loss, affecting memory related to both traumatic events and short-term daily tasks.

While memory loss can be frustrating, and sometimes even scary, here are four lifestyle changes you can make to potentially help ease this PTSD symptom.

1. Get treatment

Therapy and medication are two of the most common treatment options for PTSD.

Therapy has many forms, and there are multiple types of approaches ― such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and prolonged exposure therapy ― that have been shown to be effective in managing PTSD.

Medication may also help reduce PTSD symptoms, especially when used alongside therapy.

2. Stay active

One of the most impactful ways to take care of your brain, including your memory, is by staying mentally and physically active. Regular mental activities, like playing brain games and learning new skills, can help to keep your brain sharp and active.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity can also improve brain health and slow cognitive decline.

3. Prioritize sleep

Millions of people in the United States experience sleep troubles ― and that number is staggering in people with PTSD, affecting upwards of 70–90% of people with the condition.

We also know that sleep plays an important role in memory, and good sleep appears to be essential for memory consolidation and processing.

By following a good sleep hygiene routine, you can improve your sleep and possibly your memory, too.

4. Use memory aids

Memory aids are tools that are designed to help accommodate people who experience memory difficulties. Most people use memory aids in their everyday life ― think calendars, notepads, and alarm clocks ― but for people with memory challenges, these aids can significantly improve their quality of life.

If there are specific areas of your day-to-day life that you find difficult because of memory loss, using memory aids can help.

Living with PTSD

If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with PTSD, you’re not alone ― and there are resources that can help you learn more about living with and managing this condition.

Here are a few to check out:

For Veterans:

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Changes in memory, especially memory loss, are not uncommon in people living with PTSD. In fact, working memory ― the type of memory that allows us to store and recall short-term information ― seems to be one of the most affected types of memory in people with the condition.

If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD and are dealing with memory loss, there’s no shame in reaching out for help.

Whether you speak with your doctor or book an appointment with a therapist or other specialist, taking that first step can help you get the treatment you need to improve your overall day-to-day quality of life with PTSD.