Short Term Memory Loss: There is a Pill for That   6 comments

I slid on my headphones, adjusted the microphone and as the song ended I hit the “on air” button.   As instructed by the program director, I gave the call letters, frequency and then back-sold the five songs I just played.  The only problem was I got through two of them and could not remember the third to save my life.  Dead air.

I fumbled for the CD cover knocking over the whole stack sitting on the console next to me.  It must have sounded like a train wreck over the air.  So I made a joke about being up too early in the morning and the weak station coffee and finally found the CD.  I finished reviewing the previous songs I played, pre-sold what was coming up next and went right into a commercial.

As soon as I hit the “off air” button I whipped off my headphones, spiked them on the floor and cursed my bipolar medications for eating my brain alive.  My show was sounding like a talking dog was behind the mike because I couldn’t remember the songs I programmed myself the evening bef0re.   I was never going to be one of the great disc jockeys when short term memory loss unexpectedly rears it’s ugly head when I’m on the air.

Although I take a cocktail of anti-depressants and mood-stabilizers to treat my bipolar II, I was pretty sure I knew the culprit…  Topamax.  Major side effects; short term memory loss and decreased appetite.  The drug is actually an anti-seizure medication and years ago was also used as a diet pill.  However, it’s off label usage is as a mood-stabilizer.  My doctor would not have even thought to prescribe it if it hadn’t worked so well for my bipolar mother, who seems to respond positively to the same medications as I.

Topamax is better know to those who take it as Dope-amax, because of its innate ability to deep fry your short term memory.  On it you can literally forget you spouse’s name for a  moment.  Or, you can easily forget the name of a well known actor in one of your favorite movies, rack you brain for days trying to remember, and then surrender your pride and finally look it up on the internet.

I often wonder if this is what the early stages of Alzheimer Disease is like?  And for all the pundits who say medications for bipolar disorder are pleasure drugs and we should not be treated with them as they are the “easy way out,”  I ask you who would intentionally take a drug that causes short term memory loss as “an easy way out?”  Ridiculous.

So if you are taking a drug like Topamax or another medication for bipolar disorder causing short term memory loss that is really helping, and you do not want to try a new drug trading off for different unknown side effects, here are some ways of coping;

The simplest thing to do is make lists. At the end of each day I quickly scribble down what I need to do the next day.  It only takes a second and you’d be amazed the next day when you realize what you probably would have forgotten.

Also, write down all appointments.  Whenever my psychologist changes appointment times with me, I always think I’ll remember.  Then I get a call at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon from my doctor asking me where I am and don’t I remember I switched times?  Of course I do, it just slipped my mind.  Write it down even if you think you won’t forget.

What I’m basically driving at is to just be a little bit more prepared when going about your daily routine.  I knew damn well when I was on the radio that I was going to have to announced the last five songs I had just played in order many times during my air shift..   What I later learned to do was line up the CD cases in front of me so I could simply rattle them off on the air.  It only took a month for my brilliant mind to figure that one out.

So, if you are taking a drug to combat bipolar disorder and short term memory loss is a side effect, there are simple ways to deal with it that only involve being a little more organized and jotting down some notes.  And if you’re in a situation where you are speaking with others and you have a brain fart from which you can not recover, there is absolutely nothing wrong with graciously saying, “I can’t remember.”  It happens to everyone, even the people who think we take medication for bipolar disorder for the incredible high.

6 responses to “Short Term Memory Loss: There is a Pill for That

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  1. I’m sorry for your loss… of memory. But imo if you lose your job, you won’t be able to afford the stuff that works. You don’t know if it’s the only thing that works for you. I say try a new thing, and if it doesn’t work, switch back to dope a max 😀

    • Almer, thanks for your concern. I’m actually fine with it. Short term memory loss is not a horrible side effect. It doesn’t mean you lose your entire short term memory. Just now and then certain things you should remember don’t come to you right away. So I just make sure to write things down more ofter. It is not bad enough to warrant switching medications. And Topamax is not the only culprit with this side effect.

  2. I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2005- and tried a variety of mood stabilizers but to no avail- they all had the “Dumbing down” effect that you discribed. Finally, at last resort, I tried Abilify- and wouldnt you know- out of everything I tried it is the ONLY one that hasnt messed with my memory. I do have shakey hands once in a while, but that is it. I love Abilify! Its the first time in my life, that I feel normal- what ever normal is…: )

    • Isn’t it amazing how one drug can work so well for one person but not for another? Abilify did not work at all for me. I am so glad you found something that is able to make you feel so alive again. Shaky hands can be a bitch, but at least you don’t have them all the time. And I bet you can make a great martini. Shaken, not stirred.

  3. I just would like to say thank you for this read. I am struggling with this drugs effects but I have been on it for many many years (6 I think off and on) and it works really well controlling me. I don’t want to give it up and I am trying to cope with it’s increasing interference with my memory and word spelling and recollection.

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