Improving memory when dealing with depression
November 27, 2018 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I've been medically treating low-grade but chronic depression for just about a decade, and I've noticed in the past few years that my memory and attention-span aren't as sharp as they used to be. What sort of things should I be doing?

I'm hestitant to call it memory loss, but I've noticed more frequent "oh yeah" moments (especially in regards to long-form narratives in fiction), and it's frustrating. It's been remarked upon by friends. I don't feel scatterbrained, to where I'm actively forgetting important things, but I do feel mentally fatigued more often than not and have too many "walk in a room, forget train of thought" moments. I'm not even 30 yet; I hate feeling not "sharp" and unable to focus on one thing at a time.

Googling gets me scientific papers about the effects of depression on memory, as well as mentions of brain training, but not a whole lot of specific things to try. Googling also gives me studies that say "brain training" has minimal overall affect, regardless.

Are there things that work to improve memory and focus? Am I approaching this sideways and need to do something like meditation/exercise instead?

Medication prescription is otherwise fine, excluding occasional episodes of double depression; local therapy not available at a price point I could manage it.
posted by lesser weasel to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD but I know a little bit about memory. Have you had any labs done to assess whether these symptoms are side effects of something else treatable, eg B12 or thyroid levels?
posted by eirias at 7:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

It’s about the quality and intensity of attention when you’re first registering the experience. That is usually energized and directed by motivation, which is one of the main casualties of depression. Emotional intensity of experience helps it stick, too, and obviously when you’re depressed, you’re just not feeling it.

Can you try to immerse yourself in experiences you want to remember? Do your best to be mindful?

Anything that can get your body going will help with making things stick by giving your brain some juice - exercise can help (there’s research specifically on how it can help with memory). I think caffeine too but don’t quote me on that.

Boring suggestions I know you’ve heard elsewhere, sorry :(
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:16 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you take antidepressants, memory issues can be a side effect of some antidepressant medications. Consult with your doctors; adjusting your prescription (the type, the timing of dose(s), etc.) could help.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

You might want to consider "Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy"—something I've been looking into recently, and I find it helps with my own memory issues.
posted by standardasparagus at 10:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have problems with depression too and - naively or not - choose to try and ride it out without medication. In very intense periods - on top of my deep motivation and attention problems - I do notice slips in memory, but more often these are to do with me not really caring to remember.

Keeping a diary or just even a calendar which outlines what you are doing/have been doing. And taking time a few times a day to sit and just reflect on your day can be very helpful.

Changing your medication, as mentioned above, or reducing your dose might help alleviate symptoms. Your brain is a tender piece of meat. Treat it with care.
posted by 0bvious at 4:05 AM on November 28, 2018

In addition to the recs above, consider taking up a musical instrument, even something relatively simple like a recorder. Playing music is a great neurophysiological workout and can be a meditative practice in its own right. YouTube has basic instruction videos for just about any instrument under the sun.

Caveat : keep your goals super-small. I tend to go overboard with pressuring myself to Do Better and the results aren't great. Your focus can be on how it feels and sounds to play the instrument, not how skilled you can become.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:51 AM on November 28, 2018

So it sounds like I probably do need to get back into a mindfulness/meditative practice. Good starting points so far for things to try and research further, thanks all!
posted by lesser weasel at 4:56 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

The most important thing you can do is make sure your brain is getting lots of blood sugar. This requires good cardio-vascular health, good hydration and stable blood sugar. You need to be moving around a lot to ensure the circulation. If you are huddled up somewhere not moving much, such as at work trapped on a phone, or on the couch doing netflix for eight hours a day your brain isn't getting the circulation it needs.

If you use your brain a lot for problem solving you need more sugar than if you don't use it for problem solving a lot - if you are a programmer, for example working on coding your brain will need a high supply of the blood sugar. But of course you do not want to eat plain carbs or sugar as this creates highs followed by lows. But you can try protein to stabilize and frequent small meals or snacking - nuts and cheese cubes and all that.

If you are depressed you may be sleeping badly. Memory requires plenty of good sleep. Take whatever steps necessary to ensure you are getting enough sleep and enough deep sleep.

It's not caffeine that's good for the memory, it's coffee. Coffee contains something that is good for the circulation of the brain, but decaf works as well as regular or espresso.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:56 PM on December 1, 2018

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