Forgetting things is an unavoidable part of living. There are many reasons you may be forgetful—stress, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion can all affect our working memories and make us more likely to forget things. However, when forgetfulness is chronic, it could be a sign of ADHD.
Around 80% – 85% of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have problems with their working memories when given various memory tests and cognitive tasks. When you also consider that 80% of children with ADHD retain their symptoms into adulthood, the chronic forgetfulness you keep experiencing may be due to undiagnosed ADHD.
In this article, we’ll identify the three types of adult ADHD, how ADHD affects memory and forgetfulness, and provide tips to help improve the memories of those suffering from adult ADHD.If you struggle with forgetfulness, the licensed medical professionals on Klarity can help determine if it’s a sign of ADHD. Start by taking our free self-evaluation to learn more about your symptoms and to get connected with a provider.
Noticing symptoms and suspect you may have a mental health condition? Take a free self-evaluation on Klarity today.
How Does ADHD Affect Memory?
People with ADHD often experience problems with working memory. Working memory refers to our brain’s ability to store, process, and manipulate information within short time scales. Essentially, working memory is short-term data storage, processing, and recall. Neurologists consider working memory the important stage information must pass through before it reaches long-term memory.
Working memory involves several areas of the brain that work together to allow our brains to perform the following:
- Order and reorder information
- Update and replace current information
- Maintain accurate information while processing other information
When the function of working memory is compromised, a person is more likely to experience the many ADHD symptoms associated with inattentiveness, disorganization, and problems with executive function.
Is ADHD a Disorder of Executive Function?
Executive function refers to a set of cognitive skills that help us plan, organize, focus attention, and make decisions. Executive function is usually broken into three main areas—working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.
Executive function plays a critical role in:
- Staying focused
- Forming, executing, and changing plans effectively
- Starting tasks
- Imagining different outcomes
- Understanding alternate points of view
- Regulating emotions and feelings
- Monitoring your own behaviors and adjusting accordingly
All people with adult ADHD have issues with executive function. However, not everyone who has problems with executive function has ADHD. Therefore, ADHD is considered an executive function deficit disorder.
What Executive Functions Does ADHD Affect?
There are seven executive function deficits, and each one can be associated with common ADHD symptoms.
Self-awareness is the ability to focus attention on oneself. It can also refer to a person’s awareness of themselves in reference to their social surroundings. People with ADHD may not understand how interrupting or intruding on others is disruptive.
This executive function refers to the ability to control impulses and urges. ADHD sufferers often have problems with impulse control and lack self-restraint.
Non-Verbal Working Memory
This is the ability to hold mental imagery in the mind for short periods of time. Those with ADHD have trouble retaining images and remembering visual characteristics when prompted.
Verbal Working Memory
Verbal working memory refers to a person’s ability to hold and manipulate words in their working memory. Another way to think of verbal working memory is as an “inner monologue.” This executive function is critical for effectively formulating thoughts and communicating to others. People with ADHD display deficits in both non-verbal and verbal working memory.
Emotional Self Regulation
Emotional self-regulation relies on the previous functions to help people control their emotional state. To do this, a person uses words, images, and self-awareness to create, change, and manipulate their emotional state. A person with ADHD might struggle to regulate their emotions due to deficits in the previous executive functions.
This executive function refers to a person’s ability to motivate themselves to complete tasks internally. People with ADHD often have trouble starting tasks, revealing a deficit in self-motivation.
Planning and Problem Solving
Planning and problem solving refer to a person’s ability to dissect and recombine different ideas and thoughts to solve problems and discover new ways of doing things. Those with ADHD have trouble manipulating ideas and forming new solutions to problems.
Is Forgetfulness and Losing Things Common in People with ADHD?
80% to 85% of children with ADHD experience deficits in their working memories. Working memory is essential for remembering everything, from where we last left our keys to what a co-worker was just saying.
Also, 80% of children with ADHD will still have ADHD symptoms as adults. If you frequently forget where you left your wallet or have trouble remembering fine details of a conversation you just had, you may have untreated ADHD.
How ADHD Sufferers Can Improve Their Memories
What are some skills you can practice to improve your working memory?
Increase Your Working Memory When You Have ADHD
There are many ways to help make up for working memory deficits.
Make lists: Let a notepad or note-taking app be an extension of your working memory. There are apps designed to help with task management, and they essentially outsource working memory to your smartphone or laptop.
Focus on one task at a time: It is very easy for people with ADHD to quickly become overwhelmed by too many things going on at once. Give as much attention as possible to each task you need to complete.
Practice memory games: When you play memory exercises and games, you are simulating situations in which you need to use your working memory. Evidence shows that people with ADHD can overcome issues with executive functioning with early intervention and by learning new skills.
Organizational Tools For ADHD
Many apps and paper tools are available to help people with ADHD manage their time more effectively and complete complex tasks. Check out our post on ADHD organizational tools for improving time management and organization skills.
How ADHD Medication Helps Address Forgetfulness
The best ways to improve your working memory directly are through behavioral changes. However, ADHD medication helps improve memory indirectly by enhancing a person’s ability to focus. You can’t improve working memory if you can’t focus on the critical details of a task or problem.
ADHD medication gives people with ADHD the ability to focus on the important details. What comes after—how a person uses that newfound focus—has to be learned. A therapist or coach who’s experienced with ADHD can teach you skills that will help improve your memory.
What Are the Signs of ADHD?
There are three types of adult ADHD, each with its own distinctive set of symptoms.
Inattentive ADHD is typified by symptoms like difficulty staying organized, following instructions, and maintaining attention. This variation of ADHD is associated with memory issuesproblems including forgetfulness, losing objects, and being easily distracted.
A doctor will diagnose a patient with inattentive ADHD if they exhibit six out of the nine following symptoms:
- Struggles to give full attention to details and often makes careless mistakes during tasks
- Struggles to maintain attention during tasks and activities and when listening to others or reading
- Struggles to listen even when spoken to directly
- Struggles to finish tasks and assignments
- Struggles to plan, organize, and manage tasks and activities, especially those with a deadline
- Avoids engaging in tasks that require sustained focus and concentration due to discomfort and distraction
- Frequently loses common everyday items
- Frequently becomes distracted and loses focus due to extraneous stimuli such as wandering thoughts
- Frequently forgetful when it comes to performing daily tasks like keeping appointments or returning messages
Trouble staying still, constantly fidgeting, and self-control issues are all symptoms related to hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. This type of adult ADHD presents itself through constant talking, interrupting others, blurting out answers, and impulsive behaviors.
Doctors will diagnose a patient with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD if they exhibit six of the following:
- Frequently fidgets with hands, squirms, and taps feet
- Often leaves seat when being seated is expected, like during meetings or in the classroom
- Frequently runs, jumps, or climbs when inappropriate; in adults, this might manifest as incessant restlessness
- Unable to remain quiet or relaxed during leisurely activities
- Often behaves as if they are “driven by a motor,” unable to be still for long stretches of time
- Frequently talks non-stop
- Frequently interrupts people during conversation, finishes their sentences
- Has difficulty waiting their turn, either waiting in line or while in conversation
- Frequently interrupts and intrudes on other people’s activities and conversations
People with combined ADHD exhibit six or more symptoms of both inattentive ADHD and hyperactive ADHD.
Differentiating Between Normal Forgetfulness & ADHD Memory Issues
Misplacing keys, forgetting about an appointment, or losing track of what you were just thinking about can happen to anyone. However, it’s important to understand the difference between normal forgetfulness and ADHD-related memory issues.
Normal forgetfulness can often be attributed to stress, age, lack of sleep, or an overloaded schedule. These instances are usually isolated and don’t significantly impact a person’s day-to-day life. Simple remedies like writing things down, organizing schedules, or practicing mindfulness can often alleviate these memory lapses.
On the other hand, ADHD-related forgetfulness is more persistent and pervasive. Individuals with ADHD may experience consistent trouble with memory and concentration that affects various areas of life, including work, relationships, and self-care. This forgetfulness isn’t simply about misplacing objects, but might extend to losing track of thoughts, failing to complete tasks, or missing appointments regularly.
Recognizing the symptoms of ADHD and differentiating them from normal forgetfulness is the first step toward understanding and managing your condition.
How Klarity Diagnoses and Treats ADHD Memory Loss
If you’re experiencing forgetfulness along with other ADHD symptoms, Klarity can help. The providers on Klarity are licensed and experienced in providing ADHD diagnoses. They’ll help determine if your forgetfulness is related to ADHD or something else.
Take our free 2-minute self-evaluation to get started.