ADHD Working Memory

ADHD Working Memory

Think working memory is all about short-term information and not much else? Think again! Understanding the intricacies of working memory is crucial - especially for those dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is because many folks with ADHD face challenges in juggling tasks that require robust working memory skills - but there are ways we can train our brain and get on top of tasks.. Here's the lowdown on what you need to know about ADHD and working memory.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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How Working Memory Works Differently In ADHD

Have you ever found yourself mid-conversation, trying to recall what you were about to say? Or maybe you've stared at a grocery list, knowing you're forgetting something but unable to put your finger on it. 🧐

If these scenarios feel familiar, you're not alone, especially navigating life with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One of the most intriguing yet elusive aspects of ADHD is how it impacts working memory. 

Simply put, working memory is like your brain's Post-It note. 📝 It's where you jot down information temporarily for quick retrieval. In terms of the memory making process, working memory comes just before short term memory, followed by long term memory. 

For those with ADHD, poor working memory can turn routine tasks into high-stakes cognitive tasks. 🤯 While this concept is often overshadowed by the more talked-about ADHD symptoms - like impulse control and attention issues - it plays a significant role in day-to-day functioning. 

Whether juggling multiple tasks or struggling with learning disabilities, understanding how working memory deficits manifest can help you lead a more organized life. We'll also explore ADHD subtypes, discuss the relevance of executive functioning, and delve into the latest evidence-based research. Along the way, we'll share tips to improve your working memory because, let's face it, knowledge only goes so far in helping to remember where we left the car keys. 😆

So, whether you've received an ADHD diagnosis or are just curious, let's get into it. ⬇️

What Is Working Memory?

Working memory (WM) is a vital cog in the wheel of your brain's executive functions. It's your go-to for temporarily storing and manipulating information you're currently using. Think of WM as your brain's RAM 💾 - it holds the data you're working on and discards it when unnecessary. If your brain deems this information as useful, it is stored into your long-term memory.

Working Memory Subtypes

There are several subtypes of WM, including visual working memory 👀 and verbal memory. In the context of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), WM deficits are often the norm rather than the exception. Research consistently shows that people with ADHD usually underperform on working memory tests when trying to complete WM tasks.

Poor WM performance can ripple through multiple aspects of life. For instance, WM deficits could make academic tasks daunting for ADHD children or complicate social interactions for adults. If you have a WM impairment, you might stumble when following multi-step instructions or maintaining a conversation. These memory difficulties are especially pronounced in the ADHD population, affecting everything from task performance to functional impairments.

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The Connection Between Working Memory and ADHD

In the realm of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and its sibling, attention deficit disorder (ADD), working memory often takes center stage. Both adults and pediatric populations show significant differences in working memory capacity and WM tasks. 📈

According to the most recent studies, 62% to 85% of children with pediatric ADHD experience working memory impairments. This noteworthy statistic underlines the group differences in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among younger populations. Working memory is pivotal in affecting a child's short-term memory and can lead to behavioral symptoms commonly observed in ADHD, such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

My Experience With Working Memory

When I was first diagnosed, I was presented with a list of ADHD criteria that felt like they were describing my life story. 😳 But it was also super confusing because of the different ADHD subtypes outlined in the DSM-IV. I wasn't just inattentive or hyperactive; I felt like a mix! Knowing the nuances between-group differences in ADHD types helped me feel seen and understood.

For example, navigating a grocery store requires some level of executive function. On many occasions, I've been that person who walks into a store for milk and leaves with everything but milk. My memory betrays me, but I do come home with a bag of chips I didn't know I needed. 😂

This is because long-term memory and visuospatial working memory tasks are involved in tasks like grocery shopping. Knowing that I struggle with these tasks due to my ADHD allows me a little more patience and self-compassion. 💕

If you have ADHD, you may notice memory deficits beyond the standard forgetfulness. This could manifest as an inability to organize your thoughts or increased distractibility. 

Medical reviewers confirm that stimulant medication commonly used for ADHD can sometimes help with these memory issues, though it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. 💊

What The Research Says

Both adult and children ADHD participants in studies on working memory have often shown specific patterns of working memory deficits compared to a non-ADHD group. These differences include lower scores on tasks requiring executive functions like planning or problem-solving

The Domino Effect of Working Memory Issues

Memory deficits often have a ripple effect across various parts of life. Here are a few examples. ⬇️

Learning Disorders

Poor working memory is often tied to learning abilities and learning disabilities, affecting academic performance, basic arithmetic, and reading comprehension. 📚

Imagine trying to solve a math problem but forgetting the numbers as soon as you look away. 😢 When we consider that people with ADHD are also at an increased risk of having a learning disability such as dyscalculia, it's clear how working memory issues might play into these challenges.

Exacerbated ADHD Symptoms

Many ADHD symptoms are intertwined with working memory problems. It's not just about forgetfulness; it's also about executive functioning. 🧠This affects your capacity to plan, organize, and even inhibit impulsive behaviors. If you've ever wondered why you impulsively spent your paycheck on gadgets or clothes - this might be why! 😳

The other day, I found my coffee mug in the microwave - cold. Again. 🙄 I had reheated it three times because I kept forgetting it while scrolling through the latest ADHD literature. 😬 Now, this type of forgetfulness isn’t just an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder thing - but it is an executive functioning slip-up many of us navigate daily.

Social Difficulties

If you've got ADHD and working memory issues, conversations can sometimes feel like trying to juggle while riding a unicycle. 😅 For example, you might ask someone how their weekend was and then drift off mid-conversation. Your mind starts wandering to what you will have for dinner, and then suddenly, you're snapped back to reality with a question you have no idea the context of. It's awkward, and it can make meaningful interactions more challenging.

I remember being at a party and being introduced to someone with fascinating stories about traveling abroad. Instead of relishing the conversation, I internally panicked because I kept forgetting the details they had mentioned just seconds before. 😱 Did they say they had been to Paris or Prague? My working memory was sputtering, failing to retain information in real time. A common comorbidity of ADHD is social anxiety and awkwardness, which makes total sense when you throw this aspect of social interaction into the mix. 

How To Train Your Brain: Tips & Strategies For Better Working Memory

Whether you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or not, improving your working memory can make a world of difference in your daily life. So, how do you take that step from being all over the place to having your life together? 😅 

Here are some tips and strategies that can help. 👇

Get Enough Sleep

Research suggests adequate sleep is essential for working memory performance. 😴 If your working memory fails you often, it might be time to look at the quality of your sleep and sleep hygiene.

Eat Smart

Foods rich in antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to boost brain function. So, next time you're about to grab that donut, maybe opt for some blueberries or a piece of salmon instead. 😉

Get Moving

Physical activity has been shown to enhance cognitive abilities, including working memory. Even a 20-minute walk can work wonders. 🚶‍♀️

Try Brain Training

While sifting through the maze of ADHD literature, you've likely stumbled upon brain training 🧠 as a potential booster for executive function and WM functioning. Though the efficacy varies, these tools could be a stepping stone to improving both short-term and long-term memory, offering a new pathway for managing behavioral problems in ADHD.

I remember being a young adult and discovering the world of brain training games. 🎮 I was skeptical but intrigued. Over time, they certainly improved my ability to concentrate on WM tasks like puzzles and pattern recognition. However, there’s conflicting research for the evidence on the efficacy of these games.

Try Working Memory Apps

Technology isn't always the enemy of focus and working memory. There are many apps that use this kind of science to help improve your working memory. ⬇️

For example, the Lumosity app uses games designed by neuroscientists, aiming to help you improve various areas of brain function, including memory problems.

If you frequently struggle with information overload, Evernote is a fantastic app for jotting down and organizing all the data floating in your head. ✍🏽

Medical Advice

Sometimes, self-help strategies don't cut it. If your working memory deficits severely affect your life, it might be time to seek professional medical advice.

Medications like stimulant medication can often improve working memory and other ADHD symptoms. 💊 These should, however, only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider, who will consider your medical history, including any subtype differences of ADHD you may have.

Stay Up To Date

To keep up to date on this topic, keep an eye out for high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies that provide fresh insights into working memory, ADHD subtypes, and more. 👀

Remember, our working memory is like a mental workspace. It's tough to get things done when it's cluttered and chaotic. But when we invest in it - be it through sleep, diet, or even technology - it can become our superpower. 💪


So, we've discussed the nuts and bolts of working memory and dived into its broader implications for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and even the non-ADHD group. From this, it's clear that enhancing our working memory can truly upgrade our quality of life.

For those within the ADHD group, working on your working memory can be a game-changer in mitigating some of the ADHD symptoms that can make daily tasks a challenge. For everyone else, especially the non-ADHD group, having a better working memory means a smoother, more efficient day-to-day life. 

Our brain's executive functions, including working memory, are like the control panel of our lives. Everything from remembering a shopping list to maintaining a conversation can feel impossible when they're not functioning fully. 

Don't hesitate to seek professional medical advice if you're experiencing severe memory deficits or working memory impairments. Sometimes, medication or specialized cognitive training could be what you need to turn the tide. It's always a good idea to check with a medical professional that there's nothing else going on in terms of memory issues, especially if you're struggling to complete tasks you can usually manage, or getting frequently confused and disorientated. 

Another aspect to consider is that subtype differences in ADHD can further complicate the picture of working memory, making personalized treatment even more crucial. A healthcare provider can tailor interventions to your needs, whether coping strategies, medication, or a mix of both. Remember, when it comes to upgrading our memory, always look out for high-quality sources of information. 

So, let's not just aim to 'get by' when we could be thriving. Our working memory can be in tip-top shape with a little awareness, proactive steps, and professional guidance. 🌟

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ADHD and Working Memory: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).

What is working memory?

Working memory is where we store information we need to accomplish cognitive tasks. Generally, it functions like “sticky notes.” We hold onto the information long enough to accomplish tasks. 

Does ADHD affect working memory?

t’s possible that ADHD has an impact on a person’s working memory, considering studies show that it’s very common for children to have working memory deficits when they have this neurodivergent condition. Additionally, some of the symptoms of ADHD also affect how we remember things. These symptoms include being easily distracted or inability to sustain attention.

Why do we need to address working memory deficits?

Because WM only stores information for short-term, it may seem like it’s not important. But deficits in WM affect how we accomplish cognitive tasks. It might even affect how we store long-term memories, possibly affecting learning. Hence, we need to address working memory deficits.

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