Surprising Ways ADHD Impacts Memory

ADHD Impacts Memory

Many people are aware of the core symptoms associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD): short attention span, being easily distracted, procrastination, disorganization, trouble with follow-through, poor impulse control, and in some people hyperactivity. But there’s another common symptom that most people don’t associate with ADD/ADHD: memory problems.



There’s a common symptom that most people don’t associate with ADD/ADHD: memory problems. Click To Tweet

In people with ADD/ADHD, getting distracted or not paying attention can get in the way of memory formation and recall. The hallmark symptoms of this condition play a key role in why ADD/ADHD types often space out on deadlines, forget appointments, or neglect to complete tasks.


Memory is not a single or simple process. There are several different types of memory, including the following that can be affected by ADD/ADHD:

Short-term memory:

If someone tells you their name and you write it down a few seconds later, you’re using short-term memory. This type of memory typically lasts less than a minute and involves the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Research suggests that ADD/ADHD can be associated with some short-term memory deficits.

Working memory:

Working memory goes beyond short-term memory and lasts seconds to hours. It involves holding several pieces of information in mind while problem-solving, completing a task, filtering out unnecessary data, or dealing with emotions and stress. This type of memory plays a role in managing the tsunami of information people face on a daily basis. It is critical for following instructions, planning, organizing, and more—all activities that tend to pose problems for ADD/ADHD types.

A study in Clinical Psychological Review found that kids with ADD/ADHD are more likely to have impaired working memory compared with their non-ADHD peers. Other research published in 2020 points to significant problems with specific types of working memory among youth with ADHD.

Long-term memory:

These are the memories that are kept for hours to months to a lifetime. One study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that adults with ADD/ADHD performed worse on long-term memory tests compared with those who don’t have the condition. The researchers suggest that long-term memory impairment is related to problems encoding information. Encoding is the first step to creating a memory. Encoding is when your brain attaches meaning to experiences, or why something happened. Studies show that we remember things better and retain them longer when we associate a purpose to them.

Risk for dementia:

Findings in the European Journal of Neurology show that having ADD/ADHD in adulthood increases the risk of developing a form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia.


Brain SPECT imaging shows that ADD/ADHD is associated with lower activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, especially during concentration. The PFC (especially the dorsal lateral PFC) is also involved in sustaining attention span. It trains your mind to focus on important information while filtering out less significant thoughts and sensations.

Attention span is required for short-term memory and learning. The PFC, through its many connections within the brain, keeps you on task and allows you to stay with a project until it is finished. The PFC accomplishes this by sending quieting signals to the limbic and sensory parts of the brain. In the face of a need to focus, the PFC decreases the distracting input from other brain areas, inhibiting rivals for our attention. However, when the PFC is underactive, less of a filtering mechanism is available and distractibility becomes common.

Within the PFC as a whole, problems in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex often lead to decreased attention span, distractibility, and impaired short-term memory.


Another way ADD/ADHD raises the chances of memory issues lies in the consequences linked to the condition’s symptoms. Think about the traits associated with ADD/ADHD—short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, restlessness, and impulsivity. Research shows that these characteristics make people more vulnerable to important risk factors for memory problems, such as:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): Impulsivity and excitement-seeking behavior often seen in ADD/ADHD increases the risk for concussions. Research shows that having one or more head injuries has been associated with an increased risk of lasting memory issues.
  • Obesity: Lack of planning and impulsivity can contribute to unhealthy eating patterns among those with ADD/ADHD. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of dementia, according to a wealth of research, including a 2020 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
  • Depression: Having untreated ADD/ADHD increases the likelihood of having depression, a condition that doubles the risk of cognitive impairment in women and quadruples it in men, according to a study in Archives of General Psychiatry.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse: Untreated ADD/ADHD is associated with a higher incidence of substance abuse. In a 43-year follow-up study of more than 12,000 people, moderate-to-heavy drinkers had a 57% higher risk of dementia—and they got it earlier than non-drinkers and light drinkers.
  • Smoking: People with ADD/ADHD are more likely to smoke. In 2014, the World Health Organization concluded that tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke increased incidence rates for all types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.


Of all the consequences associated with untreated ADD/ADHD, memory loss is one of the most frightening yet least publicized. Treating the condition can be beneficial in preventing memory problems and reducing forgetfulness and brain fog. When it comes to ADD/ADHD, however, a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment will never work. This is because the brain imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that this common condition is not one thing. There are 7 types of ADD/ADHD and each requires its own treatment protocol. Finding out which type you have is a key step in the healing process.

ADD/ADHD, memory loss, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. My husband has ADD, and his memory is terrible! This has been a huge issue in our marriage. It definitely needs to be addressed when treating ADD. There are times( everyday) I wonder if he is developing dementia or if this will lead to dementia. Thank you for great article Dr. Amen!

    Comment by Janlynn — May 16, 2022 @ 7:22 AM

  2. Are the scans covered by Medicare?
    If not, what supplements do you recommend?

    Comment by Diana — May 16, 2022 @ 7:35 AM

  3. When there is lots of noice and confusion with people
    around I can’t focus on things. I get things mixed up!!!
    I feel nervous and confused!!!! Please help me!!!

    Comment by Susan Hoyle — May 16, 2022 @ 7:35 AM

  4. God…I wish I could afford this treatment. I can’t afford monthly payments. I am on Social Security only. It is a shame that mental health has such a high price…..

    Comment by Ronald Piatt — May 16, 2022 @ 7:41 AM

  5. I am 82 years of age. I was diagnosed with ADD over 5 years ago, but my doctor won’t prescribe any medication because he says none of the medications have been tested on persons over 50 years old. I live in a very messy environment, but actively pursue hobbies of gardening and acrylic painting. I live with a husband who is becoming senile and fairly non-communicative. He does not know about my ADD because I don’t think he would understand. I live in a community with mostly family doctors. Going to a specialist is a trip over 100 miles away and something we try to avoid. Do you have any suggestions for me?

    Comment by Edith Johnson — May 16, 2022 @ 10:47 AM

  6. Terrifying yet informative, I have ADHD and it’s nice to see more attention on the less-discussed issues. Memory is something I struggle with, whether it’s an appointment I forgot or a task I missed, it always makes my life difficult. I would love to see some helpful tactics to overcome or balance this out. Thank you.

    Comment by Sarah F. — May 16, 2022 @ 11:35 AM

  7. Where are your AMEN clinics located? My 15-yr-old grandson has ADHD, is on an IEP just finishing the 9th grade. However, I don’t think his teachers are really helping him. He lives in Ohio. Any suggestions on diagnosing which one of the 7 types he has?

    Comment by Shirley Ward — May 16, 2022 @ 12:54 PM

  8. By the time I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 54, I was 18 years sober, 13 years smoke-free, obese, and fired from a job of 11 years because new management couldn’t deal with my as-not-yet-identified issues it caused. I learned slower than others, worked more slowly than others, was easily distracted, and not meeting performance metrics which were increased every few months until I just couldn’t keep up. My solid relationships with clients, my ability to train others, and my outside of the box thinking were no longer sufficient to offset the neuro-typical performance requirements. In my next job, I remember my team lead showing me something while we were trouble-shooting a client over the phone, and saying “I just showed you how to do this, how could you forget it already?” while we still on the phone with the client. I have been terrified that the memory issues would translate into dementia in my retirement, and reading this article does not put my mind at ease. My maternal grandmother died of Alzheimer disease; it seems I have at least two strikes against me with this part of ADHD. What treatment is availablea? I am unable to tolerate stimulant medications.

    Comment by Diane Talbot — May 16, 2022 @ 1:05 PM

  9. Hello Shirley, thank you for reaching out. At this time, Amen Clinics has 10 nationwide locations: For more information about our locations, or referrals or resources closer to you, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:29 PM

  10. Hello Edith, thank you for reaching out and for sharing with us. At this time, Amen Clinics has 10 nationwide locations: For more information about our locations, or referrals or resources closer to you, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:30 PM

  11. Hello Diana, thank you for reaching out. Reimbursement by insurance companies varies according to your plan. Amen Clinics, Inc. does not bill insurance. At the end of the evaluation, patients are given a “walk-out statement” containing applicable diagnosis and billing codes, which can then be submitted to insurance companies for possible out-of-network reimbursement. For more information, please contact our Care Coordinators: For more information about Dr. Daniel Amen’s recommended, brain-directed supplements visit

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:31 PM

  12. I have had 3 head injuries over my lifetime span. I am 65 and the last one was when I was 64 – I can see my attention span has shortened and I am feeling a little uneasy and less enthusiastic about work, etc – What can I do help myself – I am watching my diet but I also have lost ambition to cook as well. I am not obese at all – I exercise on a regular basis as well.
    Looking for advice

    Comment by Lee Ann Jones — May 17, 2022 @ 7:23 AM

  13. I an grateful for the information given by Dr. Amrn Clinic, but it seems only wealthy people can get help. Most of us, which means most of us get ignored and thus increases the hopelessness and frustration. This adds to the already mental health issues. It is infair.

    Comment by Maryellen — June 3, 2023 @ 5:13 AM

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