Memory Problems

Do you have problems with short term memory and concentration? These complaints are very common among chronic pain patients. Individuals often report having problems remembering appointments, phone numbers, where they have placed various objects, what they went out to buy, the names of people, messages etc. They easily lose their train of thought, have trouble following a conversation, and repeat themselves. While these complaints are common to all of us, people with chronic pain seem to have more of these complaints.

It is unlikely that these problems reflect an actual impairment of memory or concentration. It is more likely due to pain, lack of sleep, fatigue, and medications. 

Head Trauma Cognitive impairments following head trauma have been well documented in the literature. Even when there has not been a direct head impact or a loss of consciousness, there may still be some cognitive impairment.

Although memory complaints are common among pain patients involved in MVAs, they are also common among individuals who have been injured at work without evidence of head trauma. For example, individuals with low back pain, repetitive strain injuries, and fibromyalgia also complain of memory problems.

Pain Neurochemical explanations have implicated serotonin. This is a chemical widely distributed throughout the central nervous system and is involved in a variety of functions including pain perception, sleep, eating, sexual behaviour, cardiac regulation, and cognition It does not take very much to see the probable and cyclical relationship between serotonin, depression, memory, sleep, and pain.

The experience of pain itself may result in memory and concentration problems by acting as a distractor. Like any overwhelming stimulus, there may be a decreased ability to concentrate and retain information.

Sleep Patients suffering from pain almost always have probelms falling and staying asleep. There are frequent awakenings because of the pain and the quality of sleep is often described as poor or light. Daytime fatigue and exhaustion may adversely affect attention and concentration.

Depression There is a body of literature documenting memory disturbance among depressed people. Depression has been shown to affect attention, perception, speed of cognitive response, problem solving, memory, and learning.

Stress Individuals with pain are usually worried about their health, job status, financial situation, etc. all of which may decrease the individual's ability to concentrate. I see this often among individuals who have suffered multiple losses and disruptions to the work, finances, and family life.

Medications It has been my experience that individuals taking narcotic medications have more complaints of memory disturbance than do patients not taking these medications. Other medications such as antianxiety drugs and antidepressaants may also affect memory. Many medications are sedating and this in turn may affect memory and concentration.

Helpful tips to jog your memory On the following page I have listed some techniques and strategies to help improve your memory.

© Robert Schnurr 2012