Memory Loss

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Memory is often affected in patients with brain tumors. These changes may be caused by the tumor itself and/or by the surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy used to treat it. The effects on short-term memory appear to be more noticeable than those on long-term memory.

In talking about memory and memory processes, we use many different terms:

  • Short-term and Long-term: Short-term memory is where we store information we need to remember for just a few seconds or minutes. Long-term memory is for information that is stored for more than just a few minutes.
  • Encoding/Acquisition: The process by which information is gathered, organized, and processed for storage.
  • Consolidation: The process by which information is moved from short-term to long-term memory.
  • Retrieval: The process by which previously learned information is remembered or brought into awareness.


In a patient with a brain tumor, memory problems can be caused either by the tumor itself or the surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy used to treat it. Fatigue, which is common in patients with brain tumors, can make these issues even worse.


Below are some suggestions which may help to improve memory:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat regular, well balanced meals and drink plenty of liquids.
  • Adjust your surroundings to enhance your attention span—some people perform better in a quiet, distraction-free environment, while others need more stimulation.

If you have problems with encoding/acquisition and consolidation:

  • Minimize distractions.
  • Focus on only one thing at a time, if possible.
  • If it’s important, repeat it. Even better, repeat it back in your own words.
  • Ask questions where appropriate; more information makes for better learning.
  • Try to associate the information with something meaningful to you.
  • Keep things as structured and organized as possible.

Designate a specific place to keep important things.

  • Arrange information under a common theme; “chunk” or group the information.
  • Make lists.
  • Use calendars, daily planners, electronic organizers.
  • Use a memory notebook.
  • Use Post-it notes.
  • Set alarm clocks/timers as reminders.

If you have problems with retrieval:

  • Use cues and reminders to help you remember.
  • Use an alarm clock/timer.
  • Use a memory notebook.
  • Use a daily planner.
  • If you are a visual learner:
  • Use written lists.
  • Visualize the information you want to remember (i.e., picture the story as it’s being told).
  • When you can, sketch it out.
  • If you are an aural (listening) learner:
  • Get the information verbally; if it’s a drawing or map, talk it out.
  • Read the information out loud (engaging more than one sense may help you remember).
  • Tape record important information.
  • Take notes.

The brain is not a muscle. However, the more active you are, the more connections you’ll build within it. Any activity you enjoy that stimulates the brain has the potential to be helpful—reading, writing, and crossword puzzles are good examples.


It is not unusual for brain tumor symptoms to change over time. Be sure to discuss any new symptoms or changes in existing symptoms with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible.


It is important to note that the information provided here is basic and does not take the place of an in-person assessment by a physician. If there is any question about the seriousness of memory loss or any other symptom experienced, please contact your doctor.