Research suggests that bipolar disorder might affect parts of the brain responsible for memory and cognition.

Like many mental health conditions, bipolar disorder is complex. Its symptoms can look different from person to person, and they might even differ from one mood episode to the next.

One of the symptoms people with bipolar disorder might experience is issues with memory and cognition. Some report problems with short- and long-term memory, having difficulty concentrating, and experiencing racing thoughts.

Researchers use brain scans to determine how bipolar disorder might affect the brain and whether there might be a connection between memory loss and bipolar disorder.

Distracted attention and racing thoughts are common symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some people with bipolar disorder also experience symptoms related to memory and thinking.

You might experience lapses, or gaps, in your memory. Some describe it as feeling scatterbrained and forgetful, like being in a “brain fog.”

A 2017 study suggests that impairments in delayed memory and attention were increased during manic episodes. Cognitive deficits in verbal fluency were also noted during episodes of mania.

According to a 2015 study, thinking might worsen as the condition progresses.

The memory-related effects of bipolar disorder could be attributed to changes in the brain.

One of the changes noted was cortical thinning. A 2020 study found that people with bipolar disorder had thinner cortical gray matter in the left pars opercularis, left fusiform gyrus, and left rostral middle frontal cortex.

Cortical thinning is a natural part of aging and could be associated with other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A 2021 study found this thinning even more evident during manic episodes.

In addition to cortical thinning, there’s some evidence that people with bipolar disorder might experience loss of neurons in the brain.

In a 2020 review, researchers suggested that people with bipolar disorder might experience a reduction in neuronal size and density in the parts of the brain responsible for memory. Small differences in the volumes of some brain structures, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, were also noted.

Little research exists exploring the chance of dementia in patients with bipolar disorder. But a 2017 study found that a history of bipolar disorder could increase the chance of dementia in older adults.

Bipolar disorder could be viewed as a progressive condition that might lead to dementia and cognitive impairment in some individuals. Other factors such as obesity, smoking, and substance misuse could further increase the chance of cognitive decline in people with bipolar disorder.

More research is needed to confirm the link between bipolar disorder and dementia.

Treatment options for bipolar disorder often involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Medications are often used to manage manic and depressive episodes.

Mood stabilizers such as lithium are among the most prescribed medications for bipolar disorder. Anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, or antidepressants might also be prescribed.

Research shows that psychotherapy encourages:

  • medication adherence
  • provides management skills
  • helps you manage expectations and set treatment goals

Supplements that help with memory and cognition can also be helpful if you’re experiencing problems with memory and attention. But there’s a lack of safety studies on supplements and bipolar disorder.

A healthcare or mental health professional can offer information about what supplements are right for you.

Living with cognitive and memory challenges from bipolar disorder can be challenging, but you can try to minimize the effects.

Consider making lists and taking notes

Making a daily to-do list could help you keep track of your responsibilities.

Taking diligent notes during important meetings, phone calls, and activities could help with decision making and recalling information.

Try to stay organized

Staying organized can help you keep track of important things, whether they’re physical items or information you want to remember.

For example, try to leave your belongings — such as your car keys, wallet, or purse — in a designated location. This can make it easier to remember where they are when you need them.

Similarly, having a special place for writing down reminders, such as an app on your smartphone or refrigerator notepad, can be helpful.

Consider keeping a regular routine

An established routine for habits such as exercising and sleeping can help you stay on track.

Changes in your routine or a lack of one could be overwhelming and flustering.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can impact your daily life, including your memory.

As new research emerges, the connection between bipolar disorder and memory loss becomes clearer.

Memory loss and difficulty recalling information can be especially frustrating.

If you’re having trouble with memory, you’re not alone. Talking with others who have similar experiences, such as following blogs devoted to bipolar disorder, might be helpful.

Other resources include:

Self-help strategies as part of your treatment plan might also improve your memory and focus.