ADHD and Memory: Does ADHD Make You Forgetful & Strategies to Improve

adhd and memory

Having ADHD can significantly impact several aspects of an individual’s daily life, including memory. From remembering instructions in a classroom to recalling an important appointment, memory difficulties can cause many challenges for individuals with ADHD. 

It is estimated that up to 7.2% of children and 6.7% of adults in the world have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Memory difficulties are a common concern among those with the neurodevelopmental disorder. In fact, research shows that approximately 85% of children with ADHD demonstrate working memory deficits. 

The relationship between ADHD and memory is complex. There are 4 main types of memory, and having ADHD can impact many of these areas in specific ways. This has to do with the areas of the brain that are affected in individuals with ADHD, which are also responsible for memory.

Memory difficulties in individuals with ADHD can also be attributed to impairments that occur at various stages involved in the process of memory. This includes encoding, storage, and retrieval. Distractibility and forgetfulness can get in the way of these processes, causing overall memory deficits. 

Understanding the relationship between ADHD and memory is critical, as this can lead to identification of the most appropriate treatment strategies and tools. This can significantly improve the daily lives and overall well-being of individuals with ADHD. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into ADHD and memory, including the memory difficulties that can result from having ADHD and what strategies can be used to help. 

Does ADHD Affect Memory?

Yes. ADHD can cause impairments in working memory, short term memory, and long term memory due to neurobiological differences. Specifically, deficits in attention and executive functions, as well as distractibility can make it difficult for the individual to recall, process, and retrieve information. 

According to research, the frontal lobe, an area of the brain that controls memory, may develop at a slower rate in those with ADHD. 

What are the different areas of memory that ADHD can impact? 

  • Working Memory: This is like your mental “workspace”, where you actively manipulate information. 
  • Short Term Memory: The temporary storage of information for a brief duration of time (a few seconds or minutes). 
  • Long Term Memory: This is responsible for storing and retrieving information over an extended period of time. Long term memory holds a large amount of information, including knowledge, understanding of concepts, experiences, expertise, skills, and much more. 

Having ADHD can cause an individual to become easily distracted. This reduced attention can cause the individual to miss information presented, affecting the encoding stage of memory. An example of this might be the individual having trouble focusing while listening to longer instructions, resulting in difficulty recalling what was said. 

In addition to working memory and short term memory deficits in individuals with ADHD, long term memory skills may also be impaired. Tasks that involve long term memory can be difficult because of differences in how efficiently the individual takes in, organizes, and stores the information. 

Here are some of the specific ways in which ADHD can impact memory. 

ADHD and Forgetfulness

Appointments, deadlines, details in conversations – all of these daily tasks can be challenging for those with ADHD due to the likelihood of experiencing forgetfulness. 

This can be attributed to the impact of ADHD on working memory. Working memory is a function of the brain that involves retaining a small amount of information for a brief period of time. It often includes engaging in something else while storing this information.

For example, within an environment like a classroom, several types of visual and auditory input are present and a child with ADHD can have trouble remembering information like a direction that was just given by the teacher. 

ADHD and Long-Term Memory

ADHD can have impacts on an individual’s long-term memory, which can make it difficult for him or her to recall facts, past experiences, or prior events. 

According to research, long-term memory deficits in individuals with ADHD are a reflection of a learning deficit that occurs during the encoding stage. This involves the initial learning of information. 

ADHD and Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is also affected by ADHD, as individuals may have difficulty retaining information for a short duration of time. This can make it challenging to complete tasks like remembering a phone number and then dialing it. 

Studies have shown that individuals with ADHD can have trouble with the visuospatial aspects of short term memory. This involves storing visual and spatial information for a short time period.  

Why Does ADHD Make You Forgetful?

The memory issues caused by having an ADHD diagnosis are a result of a combination of several different mechanisms:

  • Attention Deficits: ADHD can cause difficulties sustaining attention, which is required during the process of effectively storing new information. 
  • Working Memory Impairments: Working memory is responsible for allowing an individual to temporarily hold and manipulate information. Individuals with ADHD tend to have impaired working memory, making it difficult for them to retain information and immediately use it.
  • Distractibility: ADHD causes individuals to become distracted, which can disrupt the process of storing and retrieving information or memories. 
  • Executive Function Impairment: The frontal lobe of the brain may develop more slowly in individuals with ADHD. This area controls executive functions; attention, planning, and organization, which are critical for managing information. 
  • Neurobiological Factors: Studies have shown that differences exist in the neurobiology of individuals with ADHD, especially within areas of the brain that control memory. This can impact how memory functions in individuals with ADHD. 

How to Improve Memory with ADHD: Top 15 Strategies

Enhancing memory function for individuals with ADHD involves a combination of evidence-based approaches, practical tips, and expert advice. Here are some of the most effective strategies and tasks for improving memory issues with ADHD. 

Memory Games and Exercises

Engaging in memory games and exercises can stimulate cognitive processes and improve memory skills. Examples include: 

  • Brain Training Apps: Engaging in apps designed to boost memory and cognitive function can be motivating for both children and adults. Apps like Psychology Compass report enhancing memory through short weekly lessons. 
  • Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles: These games can strengthen functioning in areas of the brain that control memory. Research shows that the prefrontal cortex is activated when individuals play Sudoku. This area of the brain plays a critical role in the functions involved in working memory. 
  • Puzzles: Putting together jigsaw puzzles can reinforce the connections between brain cells and improve short term memory. Working on puzzles can help regulate mood, memory, and concentration by releasing dopamine when successfully fitting pieces together. 
  • Memory Matching and Card Games: These games can challenge an individual to use his or her memory of visual items, targeting both working memory and short term memory abilities. 

Memory Techniques

There are several memorization techniques that can particularly benefit individuals with ADHD and memory loss. 

  • Chunking: This involves breaking information into smaller and more manageable chunks so it is easier to remember. 
  • Visualization:  Creating a visual representation of information can enhance an individual’s understanding and retention of the information. This is sometimes referred to as mind mapping. 
  • Spaced Repetition: This strategy involves repeating or reviewing information multiple times with increasing intervals of time in between, which can reinforce memory. 

Use of Assistive Technology

Technological tools can be invaluable for improving challenges related to ADHD and forgetfulness.

  • Smartphone Reminders, Timers & Alarms: Setting reminders, timers, and alarms on a smartphone can help individuals with ADHD stay on top of daily tasks and appointments. 
  • Digital Note-Taking: Taking notes digitally is easy, quick, and efficient for providing an individual with easy retrieval of important information. 
  • Auditory Stimulation Headset: Forbrain, an auditory stimulation headset, is designed to aid in memory improvement by enhancing auditory processing, speech clarity, and attention. These are considered essential factors for effective memory function. 

Mindfulness and Meditation

Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been shown to improve focus and reduce distractibility. In turn, these can be used as strategies for improving memory issues with ADHD. 

  • Mindfulness meditation: Engaging in mindfulness meditation can improve short-term memory because it may lower the production of Cortisol. a hormone that can cause memory impairments. Working with a counselor or using online resources and videos can guide individuals through mindfulness meditation sessions. 
  • Yoga and Thai Chi: Practices like these can promote physical and mental well-being, which may improve an individual’s concentration and memory functioning. 

Using Visual Aids 

ADHD’s impact on memory can be lessened through the use of visual aids, which can help offset the effects of auditory distraction. Helpful visual aids include: 

  • Visual Schedules: Using pictures to represent tasks throughout the day (or steps within a task) can help children with ADHD recall and complete these tasks. 
  • Sticky Notes and Calendars: Writing down concise notes can help jog an individual’s memory of important dates or information they may have trouble remembering. 
  • Color Coding: Assigning specific colors to certain tasks or categories can improve organization and help combat memory loss. 

By incorporating these strategies into daily life, individuals with ADHD can proactively enhance their memory function and improve their overall wellbeing. 

ADHD and Memory FAQs 

Here are some frequently asked questions related to ADHD and memory. Knowing the answers can help those with ADHD, professionals, and family members help improve their skills. 

Does ADHD make you forgetful?

Yes, ADHD can lead to forgetfulness due to impairments in attention, working memory, and executive function skills. 

Can ADHD cause memory loss?

ADHD does not cause permanent memory loss, however it has been associated with impairments in working memory, short term memory, and long term memory. 

Is bad memory a symptom of ADHD?

Yes, poor memory is a common symptom of ADHD. Individuals with ADHD frequently show forgetfulness, reduced attention (which can impact the storage and retrieval of information), and working memory deficits. 

Does ADHD medication help with memory?

Most ADHD medications are stimulants that can impact an individual’s attention and focus, indirectly benefiting memory. Neuropsychological research on adults with ADHD has shown that methylphenidate (MPH) can improve memory, but does not normalize functioning. The authors of this study emphasized the need for additional treatment intervention, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, in order to improve memory deficits in individuals with ADHD. 

Can you have ADHD and good working memory?

Yes, although ADHD is often associated with working memory deficits, it is possible (though rare) for some individuals with ADHD to have strong working memory skills. These skills may still be impaired compared to those individuals without ADHD. It is estimated that approximately 80 to 85% of children with ADHD demonstrate working memory deficits. 

Does ADHD affect short-term memory more than long-term memory?

Both short-term and long-term memory are impacted by ADHD. Short term memory deficits are impacted by difficulties in retaining information for a short period of time. Long term memory challenges can involve deficits in encoding, resulting in difficulties recalling facts or past experiences. 

How can individuals with ADHD remember things?

Individuals with ADHD can improve their memory through memory strategies and activities mentioned in this article, including using brain training apps, practicing mindfulness and meditation, completing sudoku and crossword puzzles, and using chunking and visualization strategies. 

The Benefits of Using Forbrain for Memory

Forbrain is an auditory stimulation headset that is designed to enhance speech and language functions. It can be considered as a valuable tool for improving memory problems in individuals with ADHD. 

How does Forbrain work? It uses bone conduction technology to transmit sound vibrations through the bones of the skull and directly to the inner ear and the brain. This unique approach can be considered for improving memory in individuals with ADHD in the following ways:

  • Increased Auditory Processing: Forbrain is designed to improve the brain’s ability to process auditory information, which is critical for memory and language skills. 
  • Improved Speech Clarity: By helping users hear their own voice with increased clarity, Forbrain may help the individual retain spoken information more accurately. 
  • Enhanced Attention and Focus: Forbrain is designed to enhance auditory processing and speech clarity, and these skills can lead to improved attention and focus. This may indirectly benefit an individual’s memory abilities. 


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Amy Yacoub

Amy Yacoub, MS, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist. She has over 12 years of experience working with children who have a variety of diagnoses and disorders, including speech and language delays, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and Autism. She is also an experienced consultant within the field.