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Forgetfulness: ADHD Memory Problems-Managing Your Mind

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

Forgetfulness: An ADHD Challenge

Almost every morning, as his wife watched in alarm, Dan would spend a frantic forty-five minutes trying to find his keys, his wallet, and the papers he had brought home from work the previous day. “Can you believe it?” he would say. I”I can’t find my keys. How can you just sit there? Why don’t you help me?” he would shout. But as his wife had learned, Dan’s keys could be anywhere. They had been found on a shelf in the bookcase, in the refrigerator, on the bathroom floor, on the night table in their daughter’s room, and on the picnic table, to name only a few spots. Neither Dan nor his wife had a clue as to where they might be. He couldn’t remember when he’d had them last or what he’d done with them. And he couldn’t’ get to work without them.

This story is repeated daily in thousands of households across the country. One of the biggest problems of adults with ADHD is losing things and forgetfulness.

Forgetfulness triggers the constant frustration of losing things and results in excessive frustration, stress, and fatigue. In addition, there is the cost, time, and inconvenience replacing items.  


What Causes ADHD Forgetfulness?

Research indicates that to remember, it is important to focus attention so that it gets into our “working memory.” Noises, movement, and other activities at work or home distract adults with ADHD. In addition to inattention, another cause of forgetfulness for ADHD adults is a racing mind. There are so many thoughts in mind that it is difficult to focus on where exactly you put the phone or wallet or glasses. Still another cause of forgetfulness is impulsivity. The ADHD adult begins to file a paper, but sees a message left by a co-worker. She impulsively returns the call, leaving the papers out which are inadvertently covered with mail and brochures. Multitasking is another culprit robbing memory of ADHD adults. Excess energy and need for constant movement and stimulation, many ADHD adults try to do two things at once, and this kind of multitasking usually means not doing either well. You can’t focus long enough to use working memory to remember where the slip of paper was put.

Why do we forget so fast?

In the general population, forgetfulness may be related to lack of sleep, medication, underactive thyroid, alcohol, stress, and anxiety and depression. All of these conditions exacerbate forgetfulness in adults with ADHD. In addition, ADHD adults who take certain medications may lack appetite and neglect their nutritional needs. Lacking enough nutrients, an adult or teen with ADHD may feel sluggish and further impair thinking and remembering clearly. Forgetfulness can be a major problem for those with ADHD.


Tips to Reduce Forgetfulness

To counter the ADHD tendencies (i.e., lack of focus or acting impulsively), you need to slow down and used all of your senses. This will help to stop losing things.

  • Attach keys, phone or glasses to purse, belt, or neck lanyard.
  • Keep items in the same place. For example, near a door or on a hook or table
  • Use your tactile sense. Pick up an item, feel it carefully and say, “I can feel the keys (or checkbook or glasses) in my hand.”
  • Use your visual sense. Pay attention to the item by noticing color or contour.
  • Talk to yourself: Say, “I’m putting this invoice in the top drawer.”
  • Visualize yourself putting the item in a specific place. “I’m on the top level of the garage, red level, near the elevator.”
  • Write a note describing where you’ve stored items.

Many adults with ADHD forget how to get to or return from a location. Even with a GPS, it is important to see and say out loud the landmarks and signs.

Forgetfulness is a sign of adult ADHD. Are you forgetting appointments, directions, how to do something or get somewhere? How often do you lose everyday items? How much has forgetfulness cost you to replace lost items such as clothing, computer or phone and items such as glasses and keys?


Don’t Panic When Forgetfulness Hits

Here are some guidelines to help reduce forgetfulness and reduce panic:

  • Accept the fact that losing some things will always be a part of your ADHD life.
  • Assume that your memory will let you down. Stop forgetfulness. Get help to create a system to remember appointments as well as temporarily store daily items such as keys and wallet.
  • Slow down.
  • Do one thing at a time to reduce forgetfulness.
  • Don’t panic. Tell yourself to relax. Take some deep breaths and take short breaks.


People also ask:

What can cause memory loss and confusion?

How can you prevent memory loss?


You don’t have to be a slave to your faulty memory. Check out Dr. Geri’s audios or books at



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