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Migraines, TBI & Short Term Memory Strategies

For patients whose migraines are the result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), memory loss is a huge, frustrating obstacle. Particularly short term memory issues. Certain medications can cause memory problems, too, such as migraine prevention med Topamax (Topamirate). As someone who deals with short term memory problems years after I stopped taking Topamirate, I can share some tips & tricks that help me get things done.

Write everything down immediately. Either carry a little notebook with you or use your smart phone if you have one. I like a program called Evernote because I can access it on my laptop, my iPhone and my Kindle Fire. That not only allows me to easily make updates, but also to look up something I’ve recorded in a variety of different ways.

Examples of things I record:

– new symptoms and side effects

– migraine treatment medications I’ve used

– items for the grocery list (I keep my grocery list in Evernote so I can use it at the store, too)

– blood sugar results (I’m diabetic)

– questions for my doctors

The immediately part is equally important. For instance, if you’re making a sandwich and run out of mustard, stop what you’re doing and write mustard on your grocery list. In the moment when you think, “Oh, I need to call the vet” or “I forgot to find out if my insurance policy covers that,” write it on your to do list.

Set reminder alarms. Once you’ve started writing things down, the next step is to remind yourself to do the time-sensitive things you’ve written down in a timely fashion. Setting alarms helps with this. If you have a smart phone, great. You can be a lot more flexible about the types of reminders you set. I use the Reminders app on my iPhone. You can set something to remind you daily or just once. It’s very flexible. (If you don’t have a smart phone, you can pick up a small kitchen timer, use a reminder function on your computer if you work at it most of the day or even use a regular alarm clock. A free program called Memo to Me emails you reminders you set up on their website.)

Then it’s a matter of deciding what to set reminders for. Here are some ideas:

– Time to take medication (I have this set for am & pm meds)

– Pick up child from school

– Doctor’s appointment tomorrow

– Doctor’s appointment in x hours (on the day of the appointment)

– Make a phone call

– Balance the check book

– Order prescription refills

– Pick up prescriptions

– Work assignment due

Keep things in the same place. Put your keys on a hook or in a basket by the door and do this every time you come home. Do the same thing with your wallet and other important items you use every day. For instance, I keep my phone charger by the bed and have a ritual of plugging my phone in to charge when I go to bed. I never had to scramble to find my charger and start the next day with a fully charged phone.

Organize your life as much as possible. Make this your motto: Everything has a place and everything in its place. If your physical condition makes it difficult for you to organize and purge in your home, as a loved one for help and work on it a little bit at a time.

Seek professional help. If you are a TBI patient, I also recommend talking to your doctors about getting a referral to a specialist who can help you work on your short term memory issues and address your specific needs.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Jamie Warn
    8 years ago

    This article is perfect for me, my migraines are a result of a seziure I had about 5yrs ago due do to, too much stress in my life, and me not being fully aware of it. Stress is still a big trigger for me for migraines, as well as sunlight, I have always been sensitive to the sun light and any type of artificial lighting, in the last couple of weeks I have noticed I am becoming more sensitive to these, so I will talk with both my Eye doctor and regular physician about this as I have appointments with them in the coming weeks.

  • Elaine Gross
    8 years ago

    It’s soooo frustraing! I can say the most complex sentence, then the next one I’ll be struggling to say the most simple word – it will just be gone! My husband looks at me like I’ve totally lost it. I tell him “It’s why we call it Dopamax!”. I drives me nuts! I feel like I’ve just gone stupid sometimes. I hate it. And I really wonder if it’s worth it. I’m having migraines almost daily, so how effective is this stuff?

  • Heidi von Gemmingen-Frost
    8 years ago

    Wow, you describe my symptoms too! Is it back to the drawing board for us?

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    I use every trick you mention and my smartphone is practically attached to my hand permanently. 8 weeks of Topomax 7 years ago and my memory has permanent huge holes now. Not being able to remember names has been the most frustrating for me as it is important in my work and people’s feelings get hurt when I can’t remember their name and I really should know it by now. No tricks have helped me with that. It is so much deeper than ” just a senior moment” for me. I get terrified I am going to forget something very important one of these days.

  • Kathy Lowery
    8 years ago

    I have this problem too too, I’m convinced if you get enough migraines you get a mild form of brain damage anyway with the brain trauma. I agree with everything Diana said, also if you don’t have the electronic gadgets post its work well. At work I use a note book and write everything down all the time.

  • Rick Roberts
    8 years ago

    This article was perfect timing for me. I was just talking to my mental health worker about this. I do have problems remembering things like you stated but also have a different memory blank that occurs regularly. I’m having troubles remembering what I want to do at a certain moment.

    An example would be wanting to put my shoes on and would go into my bedroom standing there wondering why I wanted to come into the room. Today, I was looking for my car keys and did search room-by- room getting frustrated only to find them in my hand all the time. I’m usually having a bad day when these occurrences happens.

    This morning I took a Maxalt and later an Oxycodone. Does this sound normal being confused? I get clusters regularly. Your suggestion using Evernote was a great ideal. Going to try this since I too just stand in the grocery isle sometimes forgetting what I went there for. Thanks.

  • Diana Lee
    8 years ago

    I’m glad some of the suggestions were helpful for you, Rick. I must admit that scenario you described about not remembering why you went into a room happens to me pretty frequently. To combat it I’ll recite over and over in my head what I want to grab or do on the way there. It seems to help.

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