ADHD & Forgetfulness

ADHD & Forgetfulness

 We all know how forgetfulness is one of the many ADHD symptoms we face daily: walking into a room and forgetting what we came in for or losing our phone a million times a day. Although memory issues are usually associated with old age, there is evidence to suggest that people with ADHD often have trouble specifically with working memory, and that they most likely have experienced this symptom since childhood. It’s this specific struggle that can affect our ability to function. But don’t worry - there are lots of handy ADHD hacks we can use to take charge of our working memory. Let’s get into it!

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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The Complete Guide To Memory Issues & Adult ADHD

Memory loss is one of the classic Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms many of us have come to know and struggle with. For me, it’s one of the most significant sources of my anxiety: the constant panic of whether I remembered taking my medication or trying to recall whether I locked the front door. 🤔

The thing is, many people struggle with this - ADHD or not. But for those of us with ADHD, the unique wiring of our brain means we often have difficulties with working memory, which is an essential component of storing information in our brain long-term. 🧠Having ADHD can lead to difficulties in absorbing information due to being easily distracted, and sometimes, your brain might store this information in a disorganized way. 🌪️

But all is not lost - there are plenty of handy tools and tricks we can implement in our daily lives to improve our ability to remember things. With some practice, we can get our memory working for us. ✅

How Working Memory… Works

Working memory acts like a mental notepad, holding onto information temporarily as the brain processes it. It's like saving stuff on a computer's hard drive. 💾

This brain function, called working memory, helps us remember details we need for a short time to accomplish tasks. However, it shouldn't be confused with short-term memory, even though they're related. Short-term memory is like super quick and tiny storage space, only holding info for a moment. 🏃

Working memory involves the storage of slightly more information. It's like a mini worktable where the brain sorts and uses information for many essential tasks in our everyday lives. ✅ We use it for problem-solving, staying focused, and piecing together ideas.

What's interesting is that working memory can also bring in information from our long-term memory. This teamwork between short-term and long-term memory helps us get things done using new and older knowledge. 😍

How The ADHD Brain Stores Information

There is evidence to suggest that alpha waves play a part in understanding memory challenges in adults with ADHD. These alpha waves, one of the brain's electrical patterns, are vital in filtering incoming sensory information. By suppressing distractions and irrelevant data, alpha waves enable individuals to focus on essential information during tasks such as work or study. These findings underscore the ADHD individuals' struggle to inhibit competing memories from interfering with recall. It's similar to how we struggle to filter out multiple inputs of sensory information. 

everybody can be forgetful

How Memory Problems Can Affect Daily Life For People With ADHD

Memory issues can affect anyone. Whether you have ADHD or not, it's pretty common to forget things, get sidetracked during tasks, or struggle to recall important dates. However, these challenges can be more noticeable for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and lead to more significant problems and difficulties 😭.

but for people with ADHD, forgetfulness can be very intense and frequent

Forgetfulness is one of the many symptoms of ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) 📕. When combined with the other core ADHD symptoms, such as trouble focusing and a tendency to lose track of time, forgetfulness might result in missing appointments, being late for work or meetings, and overlooking bill payments 💲.

In contrast, when people without ADHD forget things, life usually carries on smoothly. They can remain productive, continue daily routines, and effortlessly remember information. On the other hand, individuals with ADHD might take a little longer to return to baseline. Quickly recalling forgotten details might not be possible, resulting in repetitive thoughts, feelings of distress, and difficulty concentrating on other tasks due to persistent memory concerns 😵‍. 

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Real Life Examples Of Memory Problems In ADHD

Forgetfulness can make day-to-day life pretty tough for those of us with ADHD. When our brains function well, we can excel in focus and concentration. Yet, during moments of stress or when our ADHD brain becomes overwhelmed, things can take a downturn.

Here are a few real-life examples of when ADHD has affected my memory. ⬇️

Missing to Set Alarm and Waking Up Late

I woke up at ten, realizing I was already late. It had been a rough week, and I had been stressed with a load of things recently. I hadn't slept properly in days and knew I desperately needed one. Last night, I stayed up late, worrying about many things while scrolling through my TikTok feed. Finally putting down my phone to rest, I checked the time and saw it was already three in the morning, which meant I had to be up by eight.

However, amidst all my thoughts, I forgot to set my alarm. Of all days, it had to be the day of an important meeting with a VIP client. Being late was not an option, and I understood that this would reflect poorly on my part. I jumped out of bed and rushed to the shower. While getting ready, I scolded myself for forgetting and not setting the alarm. This wasn't the first time, and I was sure it wouldn't be the last. 🙄

because forgetfulness can be experienced by everybody, it's not always easy to understand when it's caused by ADHD

Entering a Room and Forgetting Why

One of the adult ADHD experiences I frequently have is my memory problems with short-lived information. For example, as a freelance writer, I was busy writing an article when I felt the urge to stand up and get something in the other room. As I was walking, I noticed a few pieces of trash on the floor. I picked them up and went to the kitchen to throw them in the bin. When I was about to leave the kitchen, I stopped for a second and had already forgotten what I was supposed to be doing! 😒

I returned to my workstation and decided to write again, but my focus wandered elsewhere. So I tried to remember why I had gone to the other room. But no matter how hard I racked my brain, I couldn't remember it. I traced my path there, hoping to recall what I had to do. But my mind went blank - the short-term memory of my original intention had vanished without a trace. I let out an exasperated sigh, feeling frustrated yet resigned that this was simply one of the daily struggles of living with ADHD. 😤

Forgetting to Reply to an Important Email

Many of us with ADHD have many things to do, so our to-do list keeps growing 📝. When I'm at work, my brain gets all sorts of excited, and I focus on things that don't relate to my job. Sometimes, this can mess up my work, like missing out on replying to an urgent email because I got too into another task.

Once, I was working on some reports for my boss, and then I had to set up a team meeting for the following week. I emailed everyone on the team, locking in the time and date 📧. But in the middle of all that, the reports completely slipped my mind. When he asked me about them later, I was mortified. How could I have overlooked such an important task? I stammered an apology and promised to get them to him as soon as possible, but inside, I was kicking myself. 🙈

Missing the Deadline in Paying the Bills

As responsible adults, looking after ourselves and our finances is crucial. Despite other ADHD symptoms like difficulties with impulse control, managing our utilities, budget, and financial obligations is a must 💰. 

Once, while I was caught up in buying things I probably didn't need, I overlooked the essential task of paying my rent, electricity, and other bills on time. It was only when my internet suddenly went offline that I realized. When I contacted the company's customer service, they informed me that I hadn't settled my bill for two months, leading to the disconnection. They told me to clear the overdue amount plus extra charges to get reconnected. 

Forgetting Loved One's Birthday or Important Dates

One memory challenge that consistently gives me a hard time is recalling important occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries 🎂. There have been instances when I even forgot the birthdays of my loved ones and our anniversary.

My partner constantly feels let down when his birthday rolls around, and I usually forget to ask him what he'd like to do or plan something special. This often leads to arguments between us 💔, and reconciliation can take days or even weeks. 

some people with ADHD can also hide and compensate a lot

Masking ADHD & Being Forgetful

Dealing with ADHD has always been a series of ongoing challenges for me, feeling like a constant uphill battle. Beyond struggling with impatience and difficulty waiting, the feedback I receive from others about my other symptoms can be pretty hurtful. I find myself putting in extra effort to compensate when they point out what they see as carelessness. I want to prove that my memory is just as capable as theirs - I suppose I’m trying to prove my worth and avoid not feeling good enough. This is known as masking - and it can be exhausting to keep up. 🤯

But here’s the thing: trying to ‘keep up’ with everyone else can put our already stretched-out brains under immense pressure. When we are under a lot of stress, our working memory is more likely to worsen.

So what’s the solution? 🤷

How to Improve Memory With ADHD

There are many ways that the general population can improve their memory. For example, according to Harvard Medical School, many adults find their ability to recall important information naturally declines as they get older.

But the trick to mastering memory for people with ADHD  is to work with your brain, not against it. 

Here are a few ''hacks'' and tips you can try to improve working memory. ⬇️

Use Technology

Take advantage of technology and organizational tools like smartphone apps, notepads, and alarms to prompt your memory. These aids can remind you of important tasks, appointments, and events, ensuring you stay on top of your responsibilities. There are also many apps you can try to improve short and long term memory such as memory exercises and games. 

Minimize Distractions

Find a quiet and dedicated space when you need to remember something important. Limit distractions by turning off electronics and creating an environment conducive to concentrating on the task. Minimizing competing stimuli can improve your ability to encode information into memory effectively.

Practice Repetition

Repetition is a powerful tool for memory enhancement. Repeating or writing information aloud reinforces your brain's memory pathways. This can be especially helpful when remembering details, directions, or instructions. 

Use Cues & Association

Connecting new information to familiar cues or associations can aid memory retention. Linking facts to songs, phrases, colors, or places helps create mnemonic devices that make recalling information easier.

Break Tasks Down

Large tasks can be overwhelming for individuals with ADHD. Breaking them into smaller, manageable steps allows you to focus on one aspect at a time, reducing the chances of forgetting crucial details or losing track of progress.

Prioritize Routines

Establishing daily routines provides structure and consistency, which can help prevent forgetfulness. Creating habits like consistently placing your keys in the same spot or following a specific morning routine can minimize the chances of overlooking essential tasks.

Mindfulness for Focus

Mindfulness and meditation can enhance focus and attention, key components of effective memory formation and retrieval. Mindfulness exercises encourage present-moment awareness and can contribute to better memory recall.

Engage in Regular Exercise

Physical activity can positively impact brain health and memory. Regular exercise improves mood and quality of sleep and reduces stress, indirectly contributing to better cognitive function, including memory.

Seek Support

Don't hesitate to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals when you're struggling. Asking for help and guidance can provide fresh perspectives and strategies to manage forgetfulness effectively. Working with a medical professional can help you address any other concerns that may be contributing to memory issues, such as symptoms of depression or underlying health issues. They can also work with you to ensure you’re taking the right kind of medication for your symptoms. 

Build Self-Confidence

Instead of letting mistakes erode your confidence, view them as opportunities to learn and grow. Believe in your ability to overcome memory hurdles by implementing strategies and gradually improving your memory skills over time. Positive self-belief can empower you to take control of your memory challenges.


Dealing with memory challenges with ADHD might feel like an uphill struggle. But don't worry; many ways to boost our memory skills exist. Our ADHD brains might work differently, but using the right tricks can help us maximize our unique strengths. 💪

Remember, being patient and kind to ourselves during this process is essential. Progress might be slow sometimes, but if we keep trying different approaches, we'll realize what works best for us. With practice, these methods can become a regular part of our routine.

While ADHD can make memory a bit tricky, knowing that our worth isn't defined by what we can remember is crucial. We're much more than our struggles. By being kind to ourselves and getting support from others, we can stay positive and keep asking for what we need. 🥰

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ADHD and Forgetfulness: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

 Is being forgetful a sign of ADHD?

Yes, it is. It is one of the 9 signs of the Inattentive Presentation. Specifically, “often forgetful in daily activities” is a sign of Predominantly Inattentive ADHD.

Why is being forgetful a sign of ADHD?

The exact reason is still unknown but there are reports indicating that some people with ADHD have affected working memory. Working Memory is how we store information long enough so we can accomplish tasks. 

How do you cope with being forgetful?‍

These days, there are many things you can do to cope with forgetfulness. Setting alarms, jotting down notes, and doing memory exercises can be helpful. Of course, seeking consultation with a mental health professional is also crucial. 

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