Memory Loss & ECT
I pondered the question, “Why does ECT cause memory loss?”
ECT research would only explain memory loss as a result/side effect of the treatment. So I dig deeper.
What does ECT do? It creates electric currents to pass through the brain, deliberately triggering a brief seizure.
What is a seizure? A seizure is the result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Learning about seizures lead me to the word, “convulsions”.
Convulsions are when a person’s body shakes rapidly and uncontrollably. During convulsions, the person’s muscles contract and relax repeatedly. This is the end result from a type of seizure. Not all seizures result in physical reactions as strong as this. Some are mild and undetected.
So ECT intentionally produces convulsions. That explains the name ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy.
Again, seizures are the result of disorganized and sudden electrical activity in the brain.
Epilepsy is a medical condition where a person experiences seizures without an underlying cause or trigger.
How does Epilepsy lead to memory loss?
Epilepsy as a brain activity occurs on a specific region or site of the brain, particularly the medial temporal lobe.
The problem with this condition is that repeated attacks can damage brain tissues in some of the most important areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is essential to the processing of information and memory.
Should damage occur, it can cause problems in the storage of information and ultimately, in remembering them.
If damage occurs on the left side of the brain, this can lead to the loss of verbal memory. As a result, the person will find it difficult to remember words, whether they are spoken or written.
If damage occurs on the right side of the brain, visual memory is affected. The person will find it difficult to remember what he saw and will have problems processing objects and directions.
If damage is found on the frontal lobes, this can lead to short-term memory loss. When this happens, the person will find it difficult to keep their attention for long.
People with epilepsy can take the time to improve their memory with the use of memory aids. These can be extremely beneficial not just as sources of information but also as sources of visual and auditory memory. As a result, the individual still has access to information that they may be in danger of losing should epilepsy cause damage in the brain.
ECT can also affect memory in several ways. You may have trouble remembering events that occurred before treatment began, a condition known as retrograde amnesia.
It may be hard to remember things in the weeks or months leading up to treatment, although some people do have problems with memories from years previous, as well.
You may also have trouble recalling events that occurred during the weeks of your treatment. And some people have trouble with memory of events that occur even after ECT has stopped. These memory problems usually improve within a couple of months.
Thus far we have this answer, “Abnormal, Disorganized, or Sudden Electrical activity in the brain can cause memory loss.”
What’s happening when there is abnormal electrical activity? A number of brain cells/neurons begin to fire uncontrollably, like a cluster of madly blinking Christmas lights.
During a seizure, the normal functioning of the brain is disrupted. This is why people often report “blacking out,” meaning they have no memory of the event. This reflects a disruption in the brain circuits that form and store memories.
Repeated storms of electrical activity leave brain cells scarred and disabled, like light bulbs that have burned out from excessive use.
There’s the answer. “…a disruption in the brain circuits that form and store memories.”