PTSD and Short-Term Memory Loss (2022)

PTSD and Short-Term Memory Loss (1)

For many individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), short-term memory loss is a significant concern. While working to calm and organize memories of trauma, individuals with PTSD may also struggle to recall simple, everyday information. Short-term memory loss can leave an individual with PTSD with concerns over deteriorating cognitive functioning, and uncertainty about just how much forgetfulness is reasonable and how much becomes a medical concern.

How to Identify Short-Term Memory Loss from PTSD

Short-term memory loss with PTSD results in symptoms we often label as "forgetful." Have you ever forgotten if you've fed a pet, why you walked into a room, or if you took your medications? All of these are related to short-term memory. Short-term memory declines with age but is distinguishable from memory issues related to dementia by the type of information that is forgotten.

With short-term memory, reminders can help you recall what you did or said, or it may come back to you later. With advancing dementia, the ability to recollect how to use everyday objects, the names of familiar people, and how to perform typical tasks such as buttoning a shirt can become impossible. In the following video, I discuss some examples of how my PTSD challenges my short-term memory.

PTSD, the Hippocampus, and Short-Term Memory

The culprit involved with short-term memory challenges and PTSD is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an organ in the brain that regulates emotions, stores long-term memories and helps us distinguish old memories from new. Studies of individuals with PTSD have found that PTSD damages the hippocampus, reducing it in volume by an average of eight percent. Not only does PTSD lead to flashbacks, anxiety and disjointed memories of traumatic events, PTSD also damages the brain's ability to convert short-term memories into long-term memories.

PTSD, SSRIs, and Short Term Memory

There have been several studies on the impact of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), medications commonly prescribed to individuals with PTSD, on short-term memory loss. The results of these studies have varied from indicating that SSRIs actually may improve memory skills to demonstrating that SSRIs result in a loss of working memory skills in as little as two months after beginning the medication. While the verdict is still out on the potential for long-term damage to memory skills, there is enough evidence to discuss any concerns over how SSRIs may impact your memory with your doctor.

How to Improve PTSD-Related Short-Term Memory Loss

Here are a few simple strategies for improving your PTSD-related short-term memory problems:

  • Reduce the stress in your environment. Stress decreases our ability to focus on what we are doing. Take a few moments to rest and regroup when you find yourself frequently forgetful. It may help to jot down all of your concerns and set them aside to deal with later.
  • Make notes for yourself, and keep them somewhere organized and easy to access. I made a mistake once of keeping some of my reminders on paper and others online. I was always missing something because I would fail to check both of my reminder lists.
  • Take each task to completion with as little distraction as possible. If you're headed for the kitchen to get water, think about what glass to use, or how cold you want it. Pay attention to the little things so often done without thinking because we're busy planning out the rest of the things we need to accomplish.

If your concerns about your memory are impacting your ability to carry on with your regular daily routine, or if loved ones are expressing concerns over your recall, discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional. There are many other causes of short-term memory loss.


Tags: ptsd and short-term memory

APA Reference
Hollowood, T. (2018, January 24). PTSD and Short-Term Memory Loss, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 26 from

PTSD and Short-Term Memory Loss (2)

Author: Tia Hollowood

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Common Barriers to Recovery from PTSD Explained

(Video) The Root Causes of Memory Problems Post-TBI and PTSD

Just A Teenager

September, 7 2019 at 7:48 pm

I get this all the time! I’m still a teenager, but I forget things so much! I can never remember anything and everyone always tells me I’m making excuses! I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one!
Thanks for this information!
I can’t recognize faces really well, like if I was asked to identify one of my dogs, I wouldn’t be able to. That scares me, and sometimes I can’t remember who people are, or, I do but I can’t exactly connect the information so I’m like: “this is supposed to be _____ but I’m not sure if it is?”

  • Reply

Just a rant

May, 19 2019 at 2:47 am

All of this resonates so close to home but i cant remember anything traumatic that wouldve caused ptsd. Ive had therapists in the past tell me that i show signs of it but i never stuck around long enough to get a full evaulation. Im constantly forgetting things like whole conversations and what i was doing 10 mins ago. I also feel like im disconnected from reality more than half the time im awake and i wonder if that could also be a symptom.

  • Reply

Bradley Windsor

May, 13 2019 at 5:26 pm

I find that this is happening to me more and more. I will find myself not listening to a conversation even though I am nodding and saying yes, but then completely forgetting it, or I will tell the same story to my son that I just told him about the Ojibwa meditation instructor being at the Raptors Game 7 with Leonard's winning shot, or I will arrive home to discover I bought records from the record store but no memory of purchasing them.

  • Reply
(Video) PTSD Memory Problems (Short-Term Memory Loss)


April, 3 2019 at 5:01 pm

I have PTSD from an assault by other Vets on Okinawa in 78. At that point, I trusted all Vets to watch my back. They kicked my head in until I was knocked out and my skull was swelled up like a basketball. Since that time, I have developed mistrust to anyone to watch my back. I keep a weapon and a guard dog with me to hit 7/11 for coffee. I wish there were never Vets of the 6th banch. Those who sat on the shitbird Branch., but they were.
And those skumbirds are the ones I defend myself against daily. >

  • Reply

lily grasse

September, 26 2018 at 12:09 pm

Wow I didn't know that short-term memory loss was a small factor of PTSD

(Video) Is PTSD A Memory Disorder?

  • Reply


July, 25 2018 at 8:13 pm

Get information on PTSD copy how to support you then sit them down and talk about it so you are not alone dealing with the symptoms and they will be able to be there for you

  • Reply

Sam Whisenhunt

June, 26 2018 at 4:34 pm

I feel I was misdiagnosed in the military for avoidant personality disorder which I believe it is PTSD for when I witnessed a tragic accident which I involved myself into by giving first aid. After that, my life spiralled into many problems: major depression, anxiety attacks, avoidant, acid reflux, and short term memory getting scrambled. Such as yesterday my son was born, yet after traveling these halls flawlessly, I get mixed up, also getting information jumbled such as parts of the time and weight mixed up. I don't want to scare my family with what is going on with me but even at work I have problems learning. The more stress and pressure, the more I mess up. Same with interviews, I forget information that I tend to work with on a daily to weekly basis.

  • Reply

Mike Gee

(Video) Complex PTSD affects the brain long-term and can affect your closest relationships

February, 10 2019 at 12:19 pm

I have very similar issues. My PTSD kicked in after a brutal divorce. I find interviews at for jobs incredibly difficult.

  • Reply


June, 18 2018 at 6:55 pm

Reassuring, thank you

  • Reply

Leave a reply


Do people with PTSD have short term memory loss? ›

Everyone's experience is a little different, but PTSD can damage both long-term and short-term memory. You may find it difficult to remember certain events from your past, as well as phone numbers, dates, directions, or other details needed to complete daily tasks.

How do you fix memory loss with PTSD? ›

PTSD treatment options often include taking medications and engaging in psychotherapy. Complementary and alternative therapies exist, as well, and include options like yoga and acupuncture. These might be helpful along with traditional treatments. You don't have to live with memory loss when you have PTSD.

How does short term memory improve after trauma? ›

Cognitive Tricks to Improve Short-Term Memory After Brain Injury
  1. Use Association. One of the best ways to improve your short-term memory after brain injury is to use association. ...
  2. Use Vivid Images. Not all association has to be mnemonic. ...
  3. Space Your Repetition. ...
  4. Listen to Music. ...
  5. Write it Down.
29 Sept 2020

Can short term memory damage be reversed? ›

Short-term memory loss is something that should not be taken lightly and should be investigated further. Some memory problems are the result of treatable conditions, and memory loss can often be reversed when the condition is treated correctly.

What is PTSD memory loss like? ›

PTSD memory loss makes little room in the brain for the little things. Memory loss sufferers may struggle to recall small details of their daily lives. You may forget your address, medical appointments, or loved ones' birthdays.

Can I claim memory loss secondary to PTSD? ›

Therefore, there is competent medical evidence that memory loss is secondary to PTSD, and service connection for memory loss is granted. Notably, memory loss is contemplated under the rating criteria for evaluating PTSD.

Can the brain heal from PTSD? ›

The functions of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex that are affected by emotional trauma can also be reversed. The brain is ever-changing and recovery is possible.

Is memory loss from trauma permanent? ›

Physical, emotional, and psychological trauma can all play a factor with memory loss. You can experience permanent or temporary memory loss depending on the type of trauma.

How can I get my trauma memory back? ›

Use trauma-focused talk therapy to help recover repressed memories. It's a slow process, but talking out your experiences and feelings can help you slowly unravel memories that are hidden in your mind. Your therapist will listen as you talk about your current issues, as well as your past.

How do you compensate short-term memory loss? ›

Making appointments and the same time, writing yourself reminders, and keeping a calendar are great compensation techniques for decreased short-term memory and can help decrease the effects of these symptoms on daily life.

What does damage to short-term memory look like? ›

Short-term memory loss is when you forget things you heard, saw, or did recently. It's a normal part of getting older for many people. But it can also be a sign of a deeper problem, such as dementia, a brain injury, or a mental health issue.

Why can't I remember short-term things? ›

A lack of oxygen to the brain can affect short-term memory. Alcohol and drug abuse, concussions and other trauma to the head can impact short-term memory. Medical conditions such as seizures, epilepsy, heart bypass surgery and depression can also impact short-term memory.

Does short-term memory loss get better? ›

Treatment for memory loss depends on the cause. In many cases, it may be reversible with treatment. For example, memory loss from medications may resolve with a change in medication. Nutritional supplements can be useful against memory loss caused by a nutritional deficiency.

Are PTSD memories accurate? ›

Despite some inconsistencies, most of the studies concluded that the memory of trauma is as accurate in people with as in those without PTSD. The only recurring difference identified across studies was in recollection of trauma over time. The findings are of importance both clinically and for the legal system.

Do people with PTSD have good memory? ›

While some people may not be able to recall everything that happened, others may end up remembering things that didn't actually happen or did not happen the way they think they did. This is called memory distortion, or “over-remembering” trauma, and it can affect one's recollection of distressing experiences.

Can PTSD cause dementia like symptoms? ›

In a study consisting of more than 180,000 male veterans aged 55 and older, those diagnosed with PTSD had nearly 2-fold the risk of developing dementia syndromes such as Alzheimer disease, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, and senile dementia compared to those without PTSD.

What is a common second diagnosis that goes with PTSD? ›

The most common comorbid diagnoses are depressive disorders, substance use disorders, and other anxiety disorders. The comorbidity of PTSD and depressive disorders is of particular interest. Across a number of studies, these are the disorders most likely to co-occur with PTSD.

What percentage of PTSD claims are approved? ›

Top 10 Most Common VA Disability Claims

The average (mean) VA disability rating for PTSD is between 50 percent and 70 percent, with 53.9% of veterans being rated between 50% and 70%.

What do I say to get 70 PTSD compensation? ›

70% PTSD Rating Criteria

Speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant. Near-continuous panic or depression affects the ability to function independently, appropriately, and effectively. Impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence) Spatial disorientation.

Does PTSD ever go away fully? ›

So, does PTSD ever go away? No, but with effective evidence-based treatment, symptoms can be managed well and can remain dormant for years, even decades. But because the trauma that evokes the symptoms will never go away, there is a possibility for those symptoms to be “triggered” again in the future.

How does PTSD rewire the brain? ›

For individuals who continually experience traumatic events, or who relive traumatic memories from their childhood as adults, this means the brain can rewire itself in such a way that sometimes causes us to feel overly stressed, even when there's nothing overt to stress about.

Is PTSD neurological or psychological? ›

Many consider PTSD to be a psychological disorder, but our study found a key physical difference in the brains of military-trained individuals with brain injury and PTSD, specifically the size of the right amygdala,” said Joel Pieper, MD, MS, of University of California, San Diego.

Can lost memories be restored? ›

As long as the neurons are still alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer's,” he said. Glanzman added that in the later stages of the disease, neurons die, which likely means that the memories cannot be recovered.

Can PTSD cause dementia? ›

People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a new study by UCL researchers. The research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, is the first meta-analysis of global evidence on PTSD and dementia risk.

How do you know if you have repressed trauma memory? ›

8 Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adults
  • Strong Unexplained Reactions to Specific People. ...
  • Lack of Ease in Certain Places. ...
  • Extreme Emotional Shifts. ...
  • Attachment Issues. ...
  • Anxiety. ...
  • Childish Reactions. ...
  • Consistent Exhaustion. ...
  • Unable to Cope in Normal Stressful Situations.
16 Aug 2021

What does a repressed memory feel like? ›

Depression, embarrassment, confusion, fearfulness, and guilt are some of the feelings often associated with repressed memories. Furthermore, most people do not understand the magnitude and intensity of these emotions for certain people.

How can therapists avoid false memories? ›

Avoiding False Memories

They avoid suggestive questions and therapeutic techniques, in favor of open-ended and balanced discussions and activities. Warning people of the possibility of false memories and asking them to focus on the source of information has been shown to reduce the rate of memory distortion.

What restores short-term memory? ›

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. ...
  • Stay mentally active. ...
  • Socialize regularly. ...
  • Get organized. ...
  • Sleep well. ...
  • Eat a healthy diet. ...
  • Manage chronic conditions.

What vitamins help with short-term memory? ›

Getting enough vitamin B12 may give you more energy, improve memory, and make learning new things easier. It also has been shown to help improve mood and lessen depressive symptoms.

Can emotional trauma cause short-term memory loss? ›

Memory loss is a natural survival skill and defense mechanism humans develop to protect themselves from psychological damage. Violence, sexual abuse and other emotionally traumatic events can lead to dissociative amnesia, which helps a person cope by allowing them to temporarily forget details of the event.

What is the best test for memory loss? ›

Health care providers often use a brief test such as the Short Test of Mental Status, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) or the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). More detailed testing may help determine the degree memory is impaired.

What part of the brain is damaged with short-term memory loss? ›

Amnesia is usually caused by damage to a special part of the brain called the hippocampus. Every person has two of these: one on the right side of the brain, and one on the left.

What part of the brain is responsible for short-term memory? ›

Short-term working memory relies most heavily on the prefrontal cortex.

What mental illness causes short-term memory loss? ›

Depression has been linked to memory problems, such as forgetfulness or confusion. It can also make it difficult to focus on work or other tasks, make decisions, or think clearly. Stress and anxiety can also lead to poor memory. Depression is associated with short-term memory loss.

Why do I forget things in seconds? ›

Forgetfulness can arise from stress, depression, lack of sleep or thyroid problems. Other causes include side effects from certain medicines, an unhealthy diet or not having enough fluids in your body (dehydration). Taking care of these underlying causes may help resolve your memory problems.

How long does short-term memory go back? ›

The duration of short term memory seems to be between 15 and 30 seconds, according to Atkinson and Shiffrin (1971). Items can be kept in short term memory by repeating them verbally (acoustic encoding), a process known as rehearsal.

How long does it take for short-term memory to be lost? ›

Duration. Most of the information kept in short-term memory will be stored for approximately 20 to 30 seconds, or even less.

› References ›

Short-term memory loss occurs when a person can remember incidents from 20 years ago but is fuzzy on the details of things that happened 20 minutes prior. Medic...
Short-term and long-term memory function differently, and different causes may affect each one. While occasionally forgetting things is a typical sign of aging,...
Do you ever have those moments where you seem to forget something important or trivial? When the moments that you forget outnumber the moments you remember, the...

Can emotional trauma cause short term memory loss? ›

Physical, emotional, and psychological trauma can all play a factor with memory loss. You can experience permanent or temporary memory loss depending on the type of trauma.

Does PTSD count as brain damage? ›

Is Emotional Trauma A Brain Injury? According to recent studies, Emotional Trauma and PTSD do cause both brain and physical damage. Neuropathologists have seen overlapping effects of physical and emotional trauma upon the brain.

What does damage to short term memory look like? ›

Short-term memory loss is when you forget things you heard, saw, or did recently. It's a normal part of getting older for many people. But it can also be a sign of a deeper problem, such as dementia, a brain injury, or a mental health issue.

How do you reverse memory loss from stress? ›

  1. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Socialize regularly. ...
  4. Get organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic conditions.

Can your brain go back to normal after PTSD? ›

Though PTSD symptoms can run deep, the brain and nervous system remain plastic and healing is possible.

What part of the brain is abnormal in PTSD? ›

In addition to reduced hippocampal size, PTSD has been associated with reductions in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex69 and insular cortex.

Does PTSD permanently change your brain? ›

Brain areas implicated in the stress response include the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Traumatic stress can be associated with lasting changes in these brain areas.


1. Short-Term Memory and PTSD
2. Jodi Arias Trial: Psychologist Testifies She Has PTSD, May Cause Memory Loss
(ABC News)
3. PTSD as a Memory Disorder
4. Memory Problems After TBI
5. Stress, Forgetfulness, & Memory Loss: When Is it Mental Illness?
6. How Trauma Hijacks a Client’s Memory, with Peter Levine

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