Adhd short term memory

ADHD and Forgetfulness: 5 Important Steps to Building a Better Memory


ADHD and forgetfulness, does it ever seem like your life is filled with just those two things? Do you feel sometimes like you can never remember what you need to?

Forgetting things, even small things, can be frustrating, if not infuriating. Failing to remember small things can ruin your day or your week. Forgetting big things or important events can spoil relationships.

Many adults and children with ADHD struggle with forgetfulness as an ADHD symptom. Forgetfulness can appear as a part of inattentiveness or just not being able to keep thoughts together.

ADHD and forgetfulness don’t have to have the final say, though. In this post, we want to give you some tools to limit the impact of forgetfulness in your life.

1. Use Memory Exercises

A great strategy to tackle the effects of ADHD and forgetfulness can involve the use of memory exercises. Memory exercises help give your mind something to focus on. They also give you an anchor to base your memory recall in.

For instance, by drawing or creating a vivid picture of what you want to remember, you give your mind the drawing to anchor the memory in. This way, you aren’t simply trying to pick the memory out of nothing, but you can reflect on the drawing to bring you back to what you need to remember.

Such exercises can help you cope with forgetfulness and ADHD. Other memory exercises might include using mnemonic devices such as an acronym where the letters of a particular word represent different words to a phrase. You could even go so far as creating a song or story as a memory exercise.

Memory exercises can be fun distractions. They can also act as powerful tools in resolving ADHD and forgetfulness.

2. Let Others Know

Sometimes you might feel as though your ADHD and forgetfulness weighs you down like a burden. You might not want to share your forgetfulness with others because you don’t want to weigh them down as well.

In reality, though, through letting others know about your ADHD and forgetfulness you can have them help you remember important things. It’s ok to let others know you have issues sometimes with forgetfulness. Your coworkers, family, and friends will understand.

After all, we all have our own weaknesses. The problems can come, though, if you don’t let others know that you can’t remember sometimes. If others don’t know, they might jump to conclusions and assume you didn’t show up to an important event on purpose.

Let others know that you have issues with forgetfulness. Many of your friends and family want to help you with your ADHD but might not know how. Give them an opportunity.

Those close to you will be glad to remind you about important events. They will show you compassion and help you when you struggle to remember.

3. Make Use of Calendars and Reminders

Much of figuring out ADHD and forgetfulness depends on understanding how the ADHD brain works. In having ADHD, there exist many things that can just be difficult or challenging. To overcome these challenges, such as forgetfulness, you should try to make use of tools such as calendars or electronic reminders.

Printed or electronic calendars, possibly through your email provider, can be an excellent tool to act as a daily reminder of upcoming items. Email calendars with built in reminders can be particularly effective.

You should get in the habit of putting all meetings, events, and important dates in your calendar. Set a reminder on your cell phone or email so that you will be reminded regardless if you remember yourself or not.

Our modern world in which each of us has a computer near us or on us almost 24 hours a day provides many great tools in the form of phone and internet apps. Seek out and make use of helpful apps that can help you organize your mind and your life. Check out these 26 great apps for ADHD minds as one place to begin.

4. Accept Your Limitations

None of us can do everything. We all have our own limitations. For many people with ADHD, living with forgetfulness provides just one limitation. Instead of denying your limitations, you should embrace them.

To help overcome ADHD and forgetfulness, you need to first accept that you won’t ever have a perfect memory. You also need to accept that it’s ok to forget sometimes.

We all need more positives in our daily life. By accepting your limitations you can help raise your self-esteem each day, which in turn reduces stress and improves health and wellbeing. The opposite of accepting limitations, on the other hand, results in constant worrying.

By constantly worrying about what you may have forgotten you just put your mind and body under stress. Stress creates many more problems than just forgetfulness, which leads us to our last point . . .

5. Don’t Stress

Stress creates unnecessary complications and distractions. As if you didn’t have enough already. Additionally, stress can make ADHD and forgetfulness worse.

Studies show that chronic stress can hurt your memory. Both stress and memory are mental processes so it makes sense that stress would have some kind of impact on memory.

To improve both your memory and wellbeing find ways to de-stress your day. If you start feeling overwhelmed be sure to build in breaks to get away and reset. Work on learning ways to manage ADHD stress to worry less and find more peace throughout your day.

With less stress on your mind, you can focus more on what happens around you. Less stress frees your mind, which can help you organize your thoughts and limit distractions. Over time, less stress might help build memory tools to help you better tackle forgetfulness as well.

Build an Inventory of Tools to Tackle ADHD and Forgetfulness

ADHD and forgetfulness don’t have to get you down. Sure, you have trouble remembering seemingly simple things sometimes on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to define who you are as a person, though.

You should know that you exist as more than your shortcomings. We all have our own limitations. Accept that you can forget things and often. After you accept this, work on using the tools and tips presented here to start building your inventory of memory tools today.


Tooth Grinding, Poor Memory, and More: 5 Surprising Facts About ADHD

2. ADHD Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Diagnosis

There is more than one type of ADHD. In fact, there are three types, and diagnosis depends on the visible ADHD symptoms:

  • Inattentiveness: Includes not listening when spoken to, being easily distracted, having trouble paying attention and organizing activities, and avoiding activities that require focus and concentration.
  • Hyperactivity: Includes fidgeting, excessive and inappropriate running or climbing when it’s not appropriate, trouble with quiet play or activities.
  • Impulsivity: Includes having trouble waiting, saying inappropriate things without thinking, or interrupting.

Only some kids with ADHD are hyperactive. Others, particularly girls, may be calm, but have a form of ADHD that makes it harder for them to focus or pay attention. The American Psychiatric Association established guidelines based on these three types to help doctors more accurately diagnose and treat ADHD.

3. ADHD Is Often Mistaken for Other Conditions

A number of other health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, have symptoms that are similar to those of ADHD. Other mental disorders, such as mood disorder, personality disorder, or OCD, may also be misdiagnosed as ADHD.

In some cases, children’s circumstances may cause them to behave in ways that can be misinterpreted as ADHD. As a result, doctors must determine whether or not a sudden change or stressor in children’s lives — such as the death of a family member or divorce — is affecting their behavior.

4. ADHD Is Associated With Short-Term Memory Problems

Although they do not have problems with long-term memories, people with ADHD may have impaired short-term — or working — memory, research shows. As a result, they may have difficulty remembering assignments or completing tasks that require focus or concentration.

A 2012 review published in Clinical Psychology Review found that children with ADHD have statistically significant, large magnitude working memory problems compared to similar children who did not have ADHD.

5. Sugar and TV Do Not Cause ADHD

Although sugar intake, watching too much TV, and a chaotic family life can worsen symptoms of ADHD, research does not show they actually cause the condition. ADHD does, however, appear to run in families. Research involving families, twins, and children who were adopted suggest there is a strong genetic influence in ADHD risk.

There is no quick fix for ADHD. Although medication can help treat people’s symptoms, it’s only part of an overall ADHD treatment strategy. Behavior therapy, including help staying organized and making positive choices, also plays a role in managing the condition. Treatment strategies for ADHD must be monitored and adjusted over time, just like medications.

Photo Credit Audrey Niffenegger

The 73-year-old widow came to see Dr. David Goodman, an assistant professor in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, after her daughter had urged her to “see somebody” for her increasing forgetfulness. She was often losing her pocketbook and keys and had trouble following conversations, and 15 minutes later couldn’t remember much of what was said.

But he did not think she had early Alzheimer’s disease. The woman’s daughter and granddaughter had both been given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. a few years earlier, and Dr. Goodman, who is also the director of a private adult A.D.H.D. clinical and research center outside of Baltimore, asked about her school days as a teenager.

“She told me: ‘I would doodle because I couldn’t pay attention to the teacher, and I wouldn’t know what was going on. The teacher would move me to the front of the class,’ ” Dr. Goodman said,

After interviewing her extensively, noting the presence of patterns of impairment that spanned the decades, Dr. Goodman diagnosed A.D.H.D. He prescribed Vyvanse, a short-acting stimulant of the central nervous system.

A few weeks later, the difference was remarkable. “She said: ‘I’m surprised, because I’m not misplacing my keys now, and I can remember things better. My mind isn’t wandering off, and I can stay in a conversation. I can do something until I finish it,’ ” Dr. Goodman said.

Once seen as a disorder affecting mainly children and young adults, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is increasingly understood to last throughout one’s lifetime.

In 2012, in one of the only epidemiological studies done on A.D.H.D. in older adults, a large Dutch population study found the condition in close to 3 percent of people over 60.

Yet we know little about how A.D.H.D. affects older people, or even who has it.

“We hardly have any literature,” said Dr. Thomas Brown, associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders at the Yale School of Medicine. Almost none of the clinical trials and epidemiological studies on A.D.H.D. have included people over 50. “But I see quite a few people turning up in my office with these complaints. It’s reasonable to assume that a lot of elderly people have A.D.H.D.”

Heightened awareness of A.D.H.D. is bringing increased referrals of elderly adults to specialty clinics. “A child had been treated, then a parent, then everyone started looking at Grandpa, and saying, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and they would bring him in,” said Dr. Martin Wetzel, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Yet many general practitioners and mental health experts mistake symptoms like impaired short-term memory or an inability to stay focused on a task as something else.

“We do a horrible job of training health care professionals about adult A.D.H.D.,” Dr. Wetzel said.

Dr. Brown said, “Most doctors are not thinking of A.D.H.D. as a characteristic of somebody who is 60 or over.” Hence, the condition may be overlooked in the 80-year-old who has trouble staying engaged at the senior center, despite a lifelong history of inattention. “They figure it’s just cognitive decline from aging” or diagnose depression or anxiety in such patients, which may or may not be the case, he said.

Until about three years ago, most geriatric cognitive and memory studies did not include any people with A.D.H.D., at least not knowingly.

“Deeply hidden in all the studies about mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s are significant numbers of people with A.D.H.D.,” Dr. Wetzel said. “We have no idea who in those studies had it or didn’t have it, because nobody was asking the question.”

Screening for A.D.H.D. is not simple. No blood test or imaging study can make a definitive distinction; A.D.H.D. is basically a clinical diagnosis. “Unless you ask questions and do a comprehensive assessment, nobody’s ever going to know,” Dr. Wetzel said.

Dr. Goodman said: “This is where it gets difficult in aging patients. One has to distinguish between the longitudinal A.D.H.D. symptoms and the overlap of age-related cognitive decline. You can have both simultaneously.”

Dr. Lenard Adler, director of the Adult A.D.H.D. Program at the NYU Langone School of Medicine, and past president of the American Professional Society of A.D.H.D. and Related Disorders, said, “The key issue is to get the diagnosis correct, get the right medication into the individuals who need it and to be sure that older adults have the appropriate medical clearance prior to treatment.”

Older adults with A.D.H.D. are typically treated with the same drugs given to children, stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, but these medications pose distinctive challenges for older patients.

“If they have cardiac or blood pressure issues, the doctor would first have to pay attention to getting the heart issues or hypertension resolved or under control and then possibly come in with a stimulant,” said Dr. Brown, who added that he had successfully treated a number of people in their early and mid-70s with stimulants.

Why treat people at an advanced age for something they have had their entire life?

“Let’s say you’ve spent your whole life not functioning at a level that you could, and you believed that was an outgrowth of you as a person, and all of a sudden you received a diagnosis and medication that showed you that all of the criticism from the environment wasn’t because of who you were, it was because of what you had,” Dr. Goodman said. “That it is a very liberating experience, even if you’re 65, 72 or 83.”

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An Absurdly Easy Solution To Your Poor Working Memory

I remember when I was a kid, I would sit in math class and take these detailed notes about how to do whatever type of math we were learning. Frankly, no matter what it was it was lost on me. Algebra, trig or geometry, it didn’t matter.

You know why? Because no matter how detailed my notes were by the time I got home and started my homework, those same notes were like trying to read Chinese. At the time I literally thought I must be stupid.

Why the h-ll can’t I remember anything no matter how hard I try?! I would berate myself, feel frustrated and give up. I gave up on a lot of my dreams because of a problem that I didn’t recognize clearly at the time.

I have ADHD, and I also have a pretty poor working memory. Even now.

Ask yourself this: If I gave you a 3-step set of instructions right now, would you remember my instructions in 10 minutes?

If you are anything like me, you won’t even remember to TRY to remember the instructions. It will go in one ear and out the other. If this rings true for you, then join me in the Society of Poor Working Memory.

Working Memory Defined

After a quick Google search I found this article on the website I think it does a nice job of explaining what working memory is and how it works.

By definition, working memory is “the ability to store and manage information in one’s mind for a short period of time.”

If my memory is any indication, the period of time a person with ADHD can store information in his or her brain is relatively short.

In the same article I learned that we possess both auditory memory and visual-spatial memory capabilities. Auditory memory records what you are hearing, while visual-spatial captures everything you see.

As a side note, humans instinctively respond to what they can see, which explains why so many of us with ADHD are better at visual learning. As opposed to a lecture that is all listening and no interaction with an instructor behind a podium or desk.

Ever had a 3 hour weekly course? Yeah, it is painful at times.

In some of us, a poor working memory makes it harder to grasp and then hold on to new information. So accessing the information about say, how to do a math problem 4 hours after it is shown to me is virtually impossible.

Working Memory and Distractibility

The other really interesting piece of information I took from the Understood article was this:

The same part of the brain responsible for working memory is also responsible for attention and concentration. True story!

All of a sudden it is startlingly clear to me that not only do I have ADHD, but my terrible, no good, very bad working memory has been affecting me for my entire life. How’s that for clarity?

My next question, and hopefully yours is, what can we do about it?

Let me tell you, there is an absurdly easy solution to your poor working memory: Monotasking!

Yep, I said monotask. Not multitask. The opposite of multitasking, actually.

I first heard about monotasking from Carla Birnburg. How had this idea never entered my consciousness? Everyone with ADHD should be monotasking.

Check out this short video from Sanjay Gupta.

Let me give you an example of what happens when I try to multitask:

  • First I pull out the ingredients to make a meal for my family.
  • While doing so I hear my phone ding that I have a social media message.
  • I check my phone while turning on the oven.
  • I get sucked into Facebook writing a long response to a community member.
  • As I finish my response I realize I forgot to respond to an email from my mother so I start that.
  • Now it’s 85 degrees in my kitchen because I was trying to cook, email and Facebook at the same time.

The above is a true story, it happens like twice a week in my house.

Here are my suggestions for how to improve your working memory by monotasking.

Focus on 1 Task at a Time (MONO=1)

If you are a list person, and many of us with ADHD are list people, only focus on one task at a time. In fact, limit your list as much as you can. I prefer to keep my list to 3-4 items per day.

Choose the task you want to start with and focus on that. Do not even look at your list again until you are finished with the first thing on your list. Trust me on this one.

Cut Back on Your Obligations

For most of my life I have been a “yes” person. I tell people I will do something, or appear somewhere, even when I know I do not have the time or mental energy to follow through. Then I end up irritable and overwhelmed with my schedule.

I suggest you/me/we start to limit our obligations. Commit only to the causes, meetings and activities that really matter to you. Focus on giving your full attention to your family and your career. (Or whatever moves you.)

Be the Man with a Plan-ner

In other words, if you know you have an important meeting at work, and a conference with your child’s teacher in the afternoon and you are not sure how you are going to pull dinner together – plan ahead!

Decide ahead of time when you need to leave your office in order to get to the school on time. Schedule it in.

Keep a planner with you at all times. Use your paper-based planner to help you form a muscle memory each time you write down a task/obligation. The physical act of writing will help to improve your working memory, as will the visual representation of your schedule on your calendar.

Then use a calendar app or Google Calendar to create a calendar for yourself. The key is to use something, anything, that will give you a visual and auditory reminder. We all know we need reminders.

Listen to Music

If you are a student or someone who needs to study specific materials, I will always recommend using music to help with your memory.

Try playing a specific type of music while you study a specific subject. For instance, I used to listen to classical music when I was studying for my literature degree.

Believe it or not, I sometimes listen to rap when I am driving. (And if you are my friend you won’t repeat that.) I often listen to jazz when I am faced with a big project at work. Jazz music is calming for me.

Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with memory games, card games and that sort of thing either.

I feel like working memory is just the tip of the iceberg. Now that I figured it out, I am kind of obsessed with improving my own.

This post originally appeared on A Dose of Healthy Distraction.


Updated on November 25, 2019

What Is the Link Between ADHD and Working Memory?

“Joseph was very articulate and our assessment with him took longer than usual as he asked questions frequently. He loves English and History and tried to begin many debates and discussions with us during the assessment. His mother says that he spends hours and hours researching topics that he finds interesting – these might not be related to school. However, his pattern of behavior on the Conners Rating Scale indicated a very high ADHD. When asked about his motivation levels, he was very apathetic and negative about his school and learning in general.”

Students with ADHD often have average or even high IQ. Yet they struggle with learning. I was quite puzzled by this for some time because usually high IQ scores are associated with good grades.

Then I noticed that another group of students displayed similar ADHD-type behaviors, usch as fidgeting, being highly distractible, and lacking motivation.

How is it that students with ADHD and gifted students share similar IQ and behavior profiles, yet they have very different learning profiles.

The answer was in their working memory profile. The gifted students had excellent working memory, which was linked to their excellent grades. In contrast, the ADHD students’ poor working memory was linked to low achievement.

Average IQ does not always suggest average grades. If a student has a working memory problem, they can struggle academically even though they have average IQ ability.

The interesting thing about the working memory profile of a student with ADHD is that they do not have difficulties in short-term memory. In a testing situation, they can recall digits, words, instructions, and spatial locations at the same rate as their peers. In the classroom, they can usually remember what you have told them and repeat it back. The problem arises when they actually have to manage or manipulate that information, in both verbal and visual domains. They struggle when they have to hold information in mind and use that to guide their behaviour toward tasks or goals.

How reliable are these working memory deficits in students with ADHD? In order to answer this question, I looked at a range of executive function tests, such as inhibition, shifting, and planning actions, as well as working memory, to see which of these tests would be the best in identifying students with ADHD from their typically developing peers. Out of all the executive function and working memory tests, visual–spatial working memory was the test that was the best identifier of students with ADHD in the classroom.

This tells us that visual–spatial working memory deficits is such a prominent feature of students with ADHD and can be used as an additional diagnostic tool to identify them in the classroom.

Twitter: @tracypalloway

Do you remember? Memory problems in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Classic symptoms of ADHD are problems in attention and impulsivity. Many individuals with ADHD have problems focusing attention, are easily distractible, or have difficulties sustaining attention over a longer period of time. Numerous studies showed that cognitive impairments in ADHD are also linked to problems in executive functions, a term used to describe higher processes of cognition such as planning, organizing, strategizing, switching between tasks and inhibition.

“Memory functions of adults with ADHD, however, have been widely neglected in research for a long period of time. This is surprising as many patients with ADHD report to often lose things, to not follow through on instructions or to be forgetful in daily activities. This is even more surprising considering that some of these behaviors are indicative of the presence of ADHD as outlined in international diagnostic criteria.”

In a recent series of studies, we examined memory functioning of adults with ADHD using various tests. For example, we presented participants lists of incoherent words, we read out short stories depicting coherent events and we outlined rules of certain planning tasks. At a later time, we asked participants to recognize the words, to recall the stories as well as to perform planning tasks which have been presented before (Fuermaier et al., 2013a; Fuermaier et al., 2013b).

Our results clearly indicated that our participants with ADHD suffered from considerable impairments in memory, thereby showing that ADHD is a disorder not exclusively associated with obvious problems in attention and executive functions. Thorough analysis further revealed that these impairments in memory functioning were largely caused by executive dysfunctions, such as deficits in planning and organizing. For example, we found that adults with ADHD were (1) inefficient in storing new information in memory and (2) also had problems in retrieving the information from memory storage when a recall was required. Learning new information as well as recalling information from memory storage requires high organizational skills in which adults with ADHD have commonly problems (e.g. clustering words with similar meaning, creating memory hooks, strategic and systematic recall of all information). However, we also demonstrated that adults with ADHD had intact abilities in retaining information in memory once information was successfully stored. This means that core memory functions of adults with ADHD appear to be intact.

“Even though adults with ADHD report to encounter considerable memory problems in daily life, these problems are most likely not caused by forgetfulness but may rather result from impairments of encoding (at the time when information is learned) and retrieval (at the time when stored information is recalled).”

In addition, we showed that executive dysfunctions of adults with ADHD also adversely affect prospective memory and source memory, two specific memory components highly important for daily life. Prospective memory refers to the performance of an intended action at a particular point in the future, e.g. keeping an appointment or giving a message to a colleague when seeing him next time at work or so. Source memory comprises all information about where and when an event took place and how information was acquired. Detailed source information causes events to become vivid and rich and therefore represents a crucial quality of human memory. Just imagine your wedding. How would the afterglow be without all the memories around your wedding such as the weather at this day or the whole atmosphere? In our studies, we found that in particular planning deficits and inhibitory deficits were responsible for impaired prospective memory and source memory of adults with ADHD.


In conclusion, our studies demonstrated that adults with ADHD have not only problems in attention and executive functions but they do also suffer from considerable impairments in several aspects of memory which are crucial for everyday life. However, memory impairments are not caused by an increased forgetfulness but are rather associated with executive dysfunctions (such as deficits in planning and inhibition). In the light of these results, we believe that the detrimental effect of executive dysfunctions on memory is so important that it should be considered in behavioral based interventions which focus on planning as well as structuring and organizing information. Hence, memory functioning of adults with ADHD might be markedly improved by treating disorganization and planning deficits.

Relevant Publications and Links

NOTE: Image by Tony Hisgett, licenced under CC BY 2.0

Anselm Fuermaier is assistant professor at the Department of Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology of the University of Groningen. He studied psychology at the University of Regensburg, Germany, with an emphasis on biological psychology and clinical neuropsychology (MSc in 2010). After graduation, he came to Groningen to work on a PhD project on cognitive functioning of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In 2014, he obtained his PhD and became assistant professor in the field of clinical neuropsychology and traffic psychology. His main interests comprise the neuropsychological assessment and treatment of cognitive dysfunctions in patients with psychiatric and neurological conditions, with an emphasis on everyday functioning.

Selected publications

9 Tips to Deal with Forgetfulness in ADHD

Forgetfulness is a symptom that “can impact everything” for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), said Mindy Schwartz Katz, MS, ACC. Katz is a coach who empowers clients with ADHD to get over, around and through the obstacles that get in the way of living their unique life.

It can affect how you work. For instance, one of Katz’s clients, a contractor, bought the wrong paint color for a job, costing him extra time and money. Another client got fired from a production line because they forgot a safety procedure.

It also can affect your home life. You might forget to pay the bills, run important errands and acknowledge special occasions. Your spouse and family may interpret your forgetfulness as a sign that you don’t care about them, Katz said.

“Forgetfulness is related to the executive functions in the brain — processes which help us manage, organize, and disseminate information,” according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, NCC, a psychotherapist who specializes in ADHD.

These functions also include planning and thinking ahead. In ADHD these functions are dysfunctional, she said.

But there are strategies you can employ to effectively reduce and manage forgetfulness. Here are nine suggestions.

1. Take advantage of technology.

Use an electronic calendar, such as Google Calendar, and set it up to text you reminders for appointments and tasks, Katz said. Have it send you the same reminders throughout the day.

Sarkis suggested the apps TravelPro, which creates packing lists for trips, and Errands, which helps you keep track of professional tasks and personal errands.

2. Automate tasks.

Like sending yourself reminders, automating other tasks also helps. For instance, Katz’s client eats the same breakfast every morning because it used to take her too long to locate all the ingredients she needed for different meals.

Katz travels often, so she keeps a toiletry bag with everything she needs. When she purchases a new product, she just adds it to her bag.

You can do the same with a backpack for school and a briefcase for work. Get duplicates and extras of inexpensive items, too, she said.

3. Use self-talk.

Katz suggested pausing, paying attention to what you’re currently doing, and practicing self-talk, such as: “Here are my keys, they’re in my hands, and I’m putting them next to my purse, which is where I always put my keys.”

Sometimes, your self-talk may sabotage your efforts. Many people will say, “I’ll remember that,” Katz said. Instead, it’s better to remind yourself of what really works. So you might say: “I need to write it down. I write everything down. I’m going to put this in my calendar.”

Sarkis also stressed the importance of writing things down. “The more you write down, the less you have to keep track of tasks in your head.”

4. Have a launch pad.

One of Katz’s clients used to spend an hour and a half every morning searching for her purse, keys, ID badge and other items. Katz suggested she create a launch pad with everything she needs to take to work. She cut down her time to 30 minutes.

Make sure this launch pad is close to the door. As soon as you get home, put all your items in it. Also, if you need to bring something new to work, put it in your launch spot right away. This way, the next morning, you don’t waste time scouring your home, and you won’t forget it.

5. Create visual reminders.

Katz works with another client who’s a case manager. She found herself forgetting a lot of details because she has so many clients and so much information to keep track of. Instead of using scores of sticky notes, she created one circle for every client. In that circle she puts anything about that client.

Adults with ADHD also may forget to do the things they enjoy, she said. A different client forgets what she likes to eat for dinner, so she posts dinner menus on the fridge.

Another part of creating visual reminders is labeling things, Katz said. “I sort of chuckle about how many systems I started and forgot about it. a drawer for the scissors but couldn’t remember where I put them.”

That’s why it’s key to have a place for everything, and for everything to have a label, she said.

6. Create simple systems.

“Set up your life so that the things you need are where you need them,” Katz said. Another client, who’s in sales, works out of his car. He uses crates to house the different kinds of samples he sells. Once he’s done with a sample, he returns it to its respective crate, which is clearly labeled.

7. Create lists.

“Lists are key to organizing and remembering,” Katz said. Her client, who has significant memory issues, has checklists for everything from cleaning the house to transitioning from work to home to packing for vacation. She writes these checklists on index cards, which she keeps on a binder clip by her front door.

8. Ask others to remind you.

“Let people know that you don’t mind reminders,” Katz said. Sometimes people worry that they’re nagging you. But there’s a difference between “You never remember to ___” and “You asked me to remind you at 3 p.m. that you have an appointment in an hour.”

9. Get help.

“Reach out for help from a mental health clinician; trusted family members or friends; and financial professionals, if your forgetfulness is causing you issues with money management,” said Sarkis, also author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals.

Katz suggested hiring a virtual assistant to give you reminders and review your daily schedule and to help with accounting and billpaying. She knows a businessman who hired a high school student to be his “body double.” “Just having someone else in the room, you’re more inclined to do the things you need and want to do.”

Sometimes adults with ADHD can feel defective, Katz said. They think, “I should be able to remember this.”

But your forgetfulness isn’t a defect. It’s a symptom of ADHD. And it’s a symptom you can successfully manage. Focus on finding strategies that work for you, and don’t hesitate to seek help.

9 Tips to Deal with Forgetfulness in ADHD

Differences in brain structure and memory suggest adolescents may not ‘grow out of’ ADHD

The findings, published today in the journal European Child Adolescent Psychiatry, suggest that aspects of ADHD may persist into adulthood, even when current diagnostic criteria fail to identify the disorder.

ADHD is a disorder characterised by short attention span, restlessness and impulsivity, and is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. Estimates suggest that more than three in every 100 boys and just under one in every 100 girls has ADHD. Less is known about the extent to which the disorder persists into adulthood, with estimates suggesting that between 10-50% of children still have ADHD in adulthood. Diagnosis in adulthood is currently reliant on meeting symptom checklists (such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).

Some have speculated that as the brain develops in adulthood, children may grow out of ADHD, but until now there has been little rigorous evidence to support this. So far, most of the research that has followed up children and adolescents with ADHD into adulthood has focused on interview-based assessments, leaving questions of brain structure and function unanswered.

Now, researchers at Cambridge and Oulu have followed up 49 adolescents diagnosed with ADHD at age 16, to examine their brain structure and memory function in young adulthood, aged between 20-24 years old, compared to a control group of 34 young adults. The research was based within the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986, which has followed up thousands of children born in 1986 from gestation and birth into adulthood. The results showed that the group diagnosed in adolescence still had problems in terms of reduced brain volume and poorer memory function, irrespective of whether or not they still met diagnostic checklist criteria for ADHD.

By analysing the structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and comparing them to the controls, the researchers found that the adolescents with ADHD had reduced grey matter in a region deep within the brain known as the caudate nucleus, a key brain region that integrates information across different parts of the brain, and supports important cognitive functions, including memory.


To investigate whether or not these grey matter deficits were of any importance, the researchers conducted a functional MRI experiment (fMRI), which measured brain activity whilst 21 of the individuals previously diagnosed with ADHD and 23 of the controls undertook a test of working memory inside the scanner.

One third of the adolescents with ADHD failed the memory test compared to less than one in twenty of the control group (an accuracy of less than 75% was classed as a fail). Even amongst the adolescent ADHD sample who passed the memory test, the scores were on average 6 percentage points less than controls. The poor memory scores seemed to relate to a lack of responsiveness in the activity of the caudate nucleus: in the controls, when the memory questions became more difficult, the caudate nucleus became more active, and this appeared to help the control group perform well; in the adolescent ADHD group, the caudate nucleus kept the same level of activity throughout the test.

There were no differences in brain structure or memory test scores between those young adults previously diagnosed with ADHD who still met the diagnostic criteria and those who no longer met them.

Dr Graham Murray from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: “In the controls, when the test got harder, the caudate nucleus went up a gear in its activity, and this is likely to have helped solve the memory problems. But in the group with adolescent ADHD, this region of the brain is smaller and doesn’t seem to be able to respond to increasing memory demands, with the result that memory performance suffers.

“We know that good memory function supports a variety of other mental processes, and memory problems can certainly hold people back in terms of success in education and the workplace. The next step in our research will be to examine whether these differences in brain structure and memory function are linked to difficulties in everyday life, and, crucially, see if they respond to treatment.”

The fact that the study was set in Finland, where medication is rarely used to treat ADHD, meant that only one of the 49 ADHD adolescents had been treated with medication. This meant the researchers could confidently rule out medication as a confounding factor.

To date, ‘recovery’ in ADHD has focused on whether people do or do not continue to meet symptom checklist criteria for diagnosis. However, this research indicates that objective measures of brain structure and function may continue to be abnormal even if diagnostic criteria are no longer met. The results therefore emphasize the importance of taking a wider perspective on ADHD outcomes than simply whether or not a particular patient meets diagnostic criteria at any given point in time.

The research was supported in part by the Medical Research Council, with additional support from the Wellcome Trust and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Inconsistent Short Term Memory Linked To ADHD

Researchers in the US found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed more inconsistent reaction times when doing short term memory exercises compared to peers of the same age who did not have the disorder.
The study was the work of associate professor Dr Julie Schweitzer of the M.I.N.D. Institute & Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California-Davis, and colleagues, and is published in the journal Child Neuropsychology.
Schweitzer told the press that:
“We think poor working memory is a characteristic present in many children and adults with ADHD.”
She said the study helps to explain why “working memory may be fine at one moment and poor at another, just as one day a child with ADHD seems to be able to learn and focus in class and on another day seems distracted and not paying attention.”
About 4.4 million American children aged 4 to 17 have been professionally diagnosed with ADHD in the US, according to estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And in 2003, the parents of 8 per cent of schoolchildren said their child had the disorder.
Schweitzer and colleagues say their results support the idea that inability to respond consistently while doing a task where he or she has to use working memory is what impairs the working memory of a child with ADHD.
Some studies have already shown that children with ADHD vary widely in how fast they can complete tasks that demand use of working memory compared to children who develop normally. Others have suggested that children with ADHD might have slower response times.
For this study the researchers used more finely tuned statistical tools to find out if ADHD reaction times are faster, slower, or whether the underlying process is less straightforward.
They found that children with ADHD were mostly responding at the same rate as their normally developing counterpars, but showed a higher rate of very slow responses.
For the study the researchers gave 25 children with ADHD and 24 controls (children without ADHD who were developing normally) a series of computer based mental arithmetic exercises. For instance, they were asked to add a number on one screen to a number on another screen without using pencil and paper, and they had to decide whether a given sum was right or not.
The children did the exercises over a number of sessions, at different speeds and different levels of difficulty.
Lead author Wendy Buzy, who was a graduate student at the time said:
“We found that the children with ADHD were much less consistent in their response times.”
She said that while the ADHD children’s responses were just as accurate as the non-ADHD children, more of their responses took longer.
The study used a different approach in the analysis. Previous studies compared the range of response times and average response times for children with ADHD and controls; but in this study the researchers used more sophisticated tools so they could compare variation in reaction times within and between individuals, as well as within and between groups.
Schweitzer said they also found that:
“Higher levels of hyperactivity and restlessness or impulsivity correlated with slower reaction times.”
This study has triggered another member of Schweitzer’s team, postdoctoral fellow Catherine Fassbender, to start looking at fMRI brain images of ADHD children to examine variability in response time during a working memory task.
Schweitzer also wants to investigate treatments that might help to reduce the variability in use of working memory.
“Improving consistency in how children with ADHD respond to the environment should help them generalize what they learn in clinical interventions improving their skills across situations,” she explained.
“Intra-Individual Variability Among Children with ADHD on a Working Memory Task: An Ex-Gaussian Approach.”
Buzy, Wendy M, Medoff, Deborah R, Schweitzer, Julie B
Child Neuropsychology 2009
DOI: 10.1080/09297040802646991
Sources: UC Davis Health System.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD

Implication of Visuospatial and Phonological Working Memory in the Clinical Heterogeneity of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory. Science, 255(5044), 556. DOI:10.1126/science.1736359

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. Psychology of learning and motivation, 8, 47-89.

Diamond, A. (2005). Attention-deficit disorder (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder without hyperactivity): a neurobiologically and behaviorally distinct disorder from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (with hyperactivity). Development and psychopathology, 17(03), 807-825. DOI:10.1017/S0954579405050388

Coolican, H. (2009). Research methods and statistics in psychology. London, United Kingdom: Hodder.

Martinussen, R., & Tannock, R. (2006). Working memory impairments in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder with and without comorbid language learning disorders. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 28(7), 1073-1094. DOI:10.1080/13803390500205700

Richardson, J. T. (2007). Measures of short-term memory: a historical review. Cortex, 43(5), 635-650. DOI:10.1016/S0010-9452(08)70493-3

Thorell, L. B. (2007). Do delay aversion and executive function deficits make distinct contributions to the functional impact of ADHD symptoms? A study of early academic skill deficits. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(11), 1061-1070. DOI:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01777.x

Wechsler, D. (2005). Escala de Inteligencia de Wechsler para niños. Cuarta Edición (WISC-IV). Madrid: TEA Ediciones.

Deficits in Working Memory (WM) are related to symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In children with ADHD visuospatial WM is most impaired. WM is composed of Short-Term Memory (STM) and a Central Executive (CE). Therefore, deficits in either or both STM and the CE may account for WM impairments in children with ADHD. WM-component studies investigating this find deficits in both STM and the CE. However, recent studies show that not only cognitive deficits, but also motivational deficits give rise to the aberrant WM performance of children with ADHD. To date, the influence of these motivational deficits on the components of WM has not been investigated. This study examined the effects of a standard (feedback-only) and a high level of reinforcement (feedback + 10 euros) on the visuospatial WM-, visuospatial STM-, and the CE performance of 86 children with ADHD and 62 typically-developing controls. With standard reinforcement the STM, CE, and WM performance of children with ADHD was worse than that of controls. High reinforcement improved STM and WM performance more in children with ADHD than in controls, but was unable to normalize their performance. High reinforcement did not appear to improve the CE-related performance of children with ADHD and controls. Motivational deficits have a detrimental effect on both the visuospatial WM performance and the STM performance of children with ADHD. Aside from motivational deficits, both the visuospatial STM and the CE of children with ADHD are impaired, and give rise to their deficits in visuospatial WM.

Distinguishing between adult ADHD and mild cognitive impairment

There is considerable overlap between symptoms of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI), including problems with sustained attention or concentration, anterograde memory, and executive functioning. Differentiating these clinical syndromes based on symptomatic presentation alone can be difficult, but considering the following factors can help you make a more informed diagnosis:

Neurodevelopmental disorder history. DSM-IV-TR stipulates onset for some ADHD symptoms by age 7, although a DSM-5 Work Group is considering symptom onset as late as age 12.1 Initial onset or a dramatic worsening of longstanding ADHD symptoms in middle-age or older adults is atypical for this neurodevelopmental disorder.

Detailed self-diagnosed symptoms. Patients with ADHD usually can give a satisfactory history of their symptoms. Patients with MCI often are less able to provide a useful history because they have prominent difficulties with anterograde memory, which may be associated with emerging anosognosia.

Educational learning difficulties. Patients with ADHD frequently have comorbid learning difficulties and substance abuse disorders, which are uncommon in MCI.

Rating scales. When in doubt, use rating scales to assess for ADHD.2 Ask your patient to complete the rating scale based on how he or she remembers behaving in elementary through middle school, most of their adult life after age 20, and since symptom onset. Obtain collateral ratings from a reliable informant based on his or her knowledge of the patient’s long-term behavioral functioning.

Worsening symptoms. The typical ADHD patient will have a “positive” screen for symptoms, but will report fewer and less severe symptoms from childhood or adolescence through young adulthood and into middle and older age. Suspect MCI when your patient or an informant reports a clear worsening of symptoms in recent months or years despite a lack of evidence of a significant intervening psychiatric disorder.

Psychopharmacotherapy. Patients with MCI usually do not benefit from medications for ADHD. Patients with ADHD often report improvement in at least some of their symptoms with psychopharmacologic treatment.

When your patient’s history, rating scale assessment, and medication trials do not allow you to make a confident differential diagnosis, consider referring him or her for psychological or neuropsychological testing.

There can be overlap in psychometric test findings of middle-age and older adults with a history of ADHD and those who may have MCI. Still, MCI patients’ cognitive difficulties usually are more concerning and dramatic, including problems with spontaneous recall as well as “recognition memory.”

When findings from psychometric testing are equivocal because of possible co-occurrence, retesting in 12 to 18 months usually will help you make a reliable differential diagnosis. Specifically, progression of cognitive dysfunction—including evidence of worsening anterograde memory—is common in MCI but not in ADHD.

Current symptoms of major depressive disorder may further “muddy the waters.” However, parameters such as response to adequate medication trials, progression of cognitive dysfunction, and worsening of test-based cognitive or neuropsychological deficits over time can be useful in reaching a satisfactory differential diagnosis.


Dr. Pollak reports no financial relationship with any company whose products are mentioned in this article or with manufacturers of competing products.

How Common Is ADHD Memory Loss?

Coping With ADHD Memory Loss

Sometimes the influence of a mental health condition goes beyond the expected symptoms and criteria for diagnosis. When this is the case, the impact of the illness seems to infiltrate and corrupt multiple aspects of your mental health, physical health, everyday functioning, and overall wellbeing. The condition makes life more complicated in ways too numerous to count.

Take attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an example. It’s known to affect your attention, concentration, and activity levels. Inattention symptoms include:

  • Problems staying organized
  • Avoiding tasks that require mental effort
  • Losing important items frequently
  • Easily distracted
  • Not listening when spoken to
  • Not following through on instructions
  • Forgetting events or information regularly

By investigating the symptoms, it is easy to see just how pervasive ADHD can be in someone’s life. Someone who has problems staying organized will likely suffer at school, work, or home as necessary assignments or chores will be done incorrectly or not at all.

Someone who avoids tasks that require mental effort may appear to be lazy or unmotivated when the source is actually ADHD. If you inspect the final three items on the list, it will be easy to see the likely result.

Someone who has trouble listening to others, problems with follow-through, and is forgetful will have a poor memory.

Working Memory and Short-Term Memory

Children and adults with ADHD often have deficits in two types of memory. Working memory is a very short-term store of information that can be changed and modified to accomplish a goal.

Doing math in your head is a good example of working memory; trying to figure 110 minus 66 may take a bit of time to complete without paper, but you can image the numbers, manipulate them, and complete the subtraction to arrive at 44.

That is the power of working memory — it helps with everything from childhood games, to social interactions, to completing an important presentation for work. Any time information needs to be processed in your mind, it is working memory task.

You May Also Like:The Undeniable Benefits of Music Therapy as ADHD Treatment

Working memory is confused for short-term memory but stands in contrast for several reasons. Short-term memory’s primary responsibility is to remember information so it can be recalled at a later time.

It is used when someone gives you an order to complete or when you have to remember a phone number.

Short-term memory is a concern for people with ADHD but for another reason: a lack of attention or concentration to the task at hand will not allow the information to be accepted into short-term memory.

If the information is not absorbed, there will be no way to recall it at a later time. For example, if someone is giving you a list of items to pick up from the store and you are distracted by the bird outside the window or you begin thinking of a TV show from last night, you may only remember a few pieces of the complete list.

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