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Memory Capacity in Individuals with ADHD


Contextual information surrounding memories is crucial to memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. When a person experiences an event that is marked by vivid emotional reactions, they often are able to remember specific contextual facts related to that event. For example, a particularly joyous moment could be recalled with the exact details of where a person was when it happened and exactly when the moment occurred in life. However, this source discrimination of being able to isolate when and where appears to be diminished in people with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD).

According to a recent study by Anselm B.M. Fuermaier of the Department of Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, people with ADHD show deficits in some areas of memory processing, but not in others. Fuermaier used a word paradigm to test memory induction, storage, and retrieval in a sample of 77 participants, 37 of whom had ADHD. The participants were assessed for memory encoding, memory retention, and memory recall with source discrimination.

Fuermaier discovered that although memory encoding, learning of new material, and memory recall or retrieval of information were equal between the ADHD and non-ADHD participants, source discrimination was not. Specifically, the participants with ADHD had much lower levels of source discrimination than the controls. In other words, they were less able to describe when and where a prior autobiographical event had occurred and were unclear about the context of their memories.

This finding is extremely relevant, as it shows that people with ADHD have impairment attaching contextual meaning to memories. Fuermaier said, “Inefficient source discrimination in adults with ADHD can affect daily functioning by limiting biographic awareness and disturbing general cognitive processes.” Identifying these deficits and empowering individuals with ADHD by teaching them effective memory retrieval techniques could improve overall functioning and increase well-being in all domains of life.

Fuermaier, A.B.M., Tucha, L., Koerts, J., Aschenbrenner, S., Weisbrod, M., et al. (2013). Source Discrimination in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE 8(5): e65134. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065134

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  • LizaQ June 10th, 2013 at 10:18 AM #1

    Do you think that this could help with behavioral issues too? After all I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that maybe some behavior problems stem form difficulties that may be experienced in other areas of life. just a thought anyway.

  • gibbs June 10th, 2013 at 9:42 PM #2

    memories would sure be tasteless without contextual info.I mean how would it feel to not revel in good moments of the past fully?I couldnt handle it for sure.

  • Maggie June 17th, 2013 at 6:48 AM #3

    Up until the time of diagnosis, the person with ADHD may not be aware that they’re missing contextual information. Diagnosis, therapy, coaching and medication can help tremendously. Diagnosis brings with it a grieving process, but also hope because with hard work the ADHD adult can learn how they learn and hone in on what memory strategies work for them.
    The biggest frustration with ADHD is the fact that one can remember and perform brilliantly one day and have marginal performance the next. Often the frustration of not being able to perform at the same level as peers or being able to perform the way you want to when you need to is maddening. So yes, often people act out. How do you think it would feel to watch others succeeding and getting promotions and having fulfilling relationships, when you’re trying and working your hardest only to move at a snails pace. Learning to work with the ADHD is not an easy task. The most painful thing is others labeling you as lazy or labeling you in some other way…he’s dumb, she’s a slut, how can you stand to live with him/her…I feel so sorry for you, why can’t you just be more positive. Not an easy road at all. Trying to work with the ADHD symptoms plus try to constantly defend why you need to do things a certain way is exhausting. This sheer exhaustion of having to work so much harder can definitely make a person cranky.

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