PTSD: Memory Problems and Concentration IssuesCeasar Augustus Paita
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause lifelong impairment to the person’s social and occupational life. In most cases, people with PTSD have some degree of memory loss, poor concentration skills, and other cognitive difficulties. However, even though cognitive problems are among the most crippling features of PTSD and especially difficult for the individual to cope with, cognitive symptoms rarely get the kind of attention or focus that other PTSD symptoms receive from the public and even from mental health providers.
The Link Between Cognitive Difficulties and PTSD
Cognitive difficulties, including memory loss and impaired learning, are prevalent among people with PTSD. These can occur immediately after trauma exposure, but they also may not emerge until several months or even years later. These difficulties are found in most people who have PTSD, and they represent a significant burden to individuals and their loved ones. In addition, greater severity of cognitive impairment is associated with more severe PTSD symptoms and worse quality of life and functioning.
How PTSD Affects Your Hippocampus
Memory loss is often associated with PTSD and is an indicator of the disorder itself. This is because memory problems in people with PTSD can be traced back to abnormal functioning of the hippocampus. Numerous studies found that the hippocampus is smaller in people with PTSD. One research concluded that Vietnam Veterans with PTSD were shown to have 8% smaller right hippocampal volume based on MRI relative to controls matched for various factors such as alcohol abuse and education. Based on the Wechsler Memory Scale, smaller volumes was correlated with deficits in verbal declarative memory. A second study showed a 12% reduction in left hippocampal volume in 17 patients with childhood abuse-related PTSD compared with 17 case-matched controls, which was significant after controlling for confounding factors. Recent meta-analyses found that chronic PTSD patients of both genders had smaller hippocampal volumes on both sides, regardless of gender.
The hippocampus plays a significant role in delivering and processing information and is responsible for the ability to store and retrieve memories. So if it shrinks or experiences some kind of damage, you may have difficulty storing and recalling memories.
PTSD And The Amygdala
Researchers believe that the cognitive difficulties of patients with PTSD could result from hyperactivity of the amygdala and disruptions in cortical regions responsible for managing stress responses. Your amygdala is a part of your brain that serves as an alarm system. When you experience a disturbing event, it sends a signal that causes a fear response, which is the body’s natural response to danger. This can be helpful in some situations, but if the amygdala becomes overactive, it’s hard to think rationally. A person with PTSD tends to respond overactively.
Ways PTSD May Affect Your Cognition
Cognition can be profoundly affected by PTSD, and it may be the most disabling symptom overall. The effects of PTSD on cognition are wide-ranging and may vary from person to person, but here are some ways it may affect your brain functions:
Memory difficulties. Memory is one of the most common cognitive problems for people with PTSD. Some people have trouble remembering specific details about a traumatic event or other stressful experiences; others have difficulty remembering things that happened before or after that event. Some people even forget entire chunks of time, including periods of time when they were not experiencing trauma.
Attention and concentration. People with PTSD may struggle to pay attention and focus on tasks. This is because PTSD can cause hypervigilance or hyperarousal, which means you’re always on high alert and ready for action. So when you’re trying to focus on something, your brain keeps jumping back to whatever it thinks could be a threat.
Difficulty making decisions. Decision-making is another area where people with PTSD often struggle—they may find it challenging to make decisions under pressure, or they may avoid making decisions at all because they don’t know how they’ll turn out. PTSD can cause difficulty with decision-making and problem-solving because it interferes with your ability to weigh options before making a choice. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean you’re incapable of making good decisions, but there may be challenges.
Trouble processing information quickly and accurately. PTSD can affect your ability to think logically and clearly—making it hard to put together complex thoughts or understand new information. This is because trauma affects how we process information and our ability to make sense of things that happen around us (especially traumatic events).
Sleep disturbances. PTSD may prevent you from getting the restorative quality sleep you need. One of the primary reasons for this is that PTSD harms the portion of your brain responsible for storing memories, which causes nightmares and flashbacks that keep trauma fresh in your mind. These can leave you feeling shaken and exhausted, making it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, or feel rested when you do sleep. Sleep deprivation makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety. A lack of sleep also makes it harder for you to focus, remember details, make decisions, or complete tasks.
Mood swings. People who experience mood swings as part of their PTSD symptoms are more likely to report cognitive difficulties than those who do not. A healthy brain is closely linked to your emotions and memories. When you experience an emotion, it’s stored as a memory and is then triggered by similar situations in the future. However, with PTSD, your brain has difficulty regulating these memories and emotions. This can lead to problems with controlling your moods or managing stress, leading to cognitive issues.
How To Improve Your Cognition
One of the most frightening aspects for those with PTSD is how much it impacts their overall health and well-being, both emotionally and physically. Persistent stress, anxiety, and loneliness will likely make it harder for people with PTSD to recover. These factors can be reduced by combating stigma through education, finding ways to reclaim your cognitive functions, and offering support on the home front by families and friends. Fortunately, the more you know about PTSD and the various treatment options available, the easier you will find your recovery. There are also ways to help reduce PTSD-related memory loss, and here are some ways to improve your cognition.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A balanced diet can help keep your brain healthy by providing essential nutrients that support proper brain function while also helping reduce inflammation that can lead to cognitive decline or other health issues.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising regularly has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and reduce emotional distress in people with PTSD because it improves blood flow to the brain. It can also help you focus on other things besides your trauma and allow you to feel more relaxed during the day.
- Mindfulness techniques are there to help people who live with PTSD to cope with their symptoms and rebuild their lives, like meditation that reduces bursts of anger or challenging memories. PTSD patients who meditate have shown improved cognition. By focusing on breathing techniques or repetitive thoughts, meditation allows you to calm down and focus on something other than negative emotions or memories from the past.
- Maintain a good social circle. The stimulation of attention and memory during social interactionsstrengthens neural networks. A boost in mental activity enhances your cognitive function. When you have a good support network, you will feel a sense of belongingness, security, and safety, which in turn reduces loneliness and helps you cope with stress, anxiety, and traumatic experiences.
- Therapy. Therapy is an essential part of treating PTSD. It can help you learn how to manage your anxiety and stress levels so that it doesn’t affect your daily life. Therapy can also help you recognize when memories are triggered, which is an important step in helping you overcome them.
- Taking a brain supplement. An essential part of any memory health regimen is having the right, powerful memory supplement. Vivolor Memory Support provides 5-20 times more supplementation than any other brand. Each ingredientwas selected because of its powerful effects on inflammation, oxidation, blood sugar, and lipids. Each ingredient has evidence that it effectively improves cognition, memory, attention, processing speed, and focus.
PTSD can impact your brain, making everyday tasks more challenging. More research is needed to pierce the veil of ignorance surrounding PTSD and its cognitive symptoms, but finding ways to help improve your cognition will significantly improve the quality of life for those suffering from this increasingly common disorder.