Does Having ADHD Mean Having A ‘Bad’ Memory? Not Necessarily.

==young woman thinking at deskMany people with ADHD wonder if they have a ‘bad’ memory. It’s a short question with a complicated answer because it really depends on how your individual brain works.

There are actually 3 types of memory: short-term, working, and long-term. Kids and adults with ADHD tend to struggle with working memory, which allows us to hold on to chunks of information long enough to process and take action on it. Working memory challenges occur for many people with ADHD and they sometimes are accompanied by slower processing speed as well. You simply process memory differently than neurotypical brains–sometimes recalling extremely specific information from ten years ago and sometimes struggling to remember what you had for dinner yesterday.

Your memory works idiosyncratically and sometimes less effectively than you might otherwise desire. So, instead of labeling your memory as good or bad, let’s understand how it works and what tools and adaptations can help you develop and apply it. 

Working Memory and ADHD

memory puzzle graphicWorking memory challenges not only affect executive functioning skills but also, specifically, emotional control. There may be difficulties when you need to commit something to memory and then act on this information, or process multiple pieces of information at the same time. Or, if you are overwhelmed by strong emotions or stress, you may lose sight of what you were doing or saying or act impulsively.

For kids with ADHD, working memories hiccups may look like not being able to follow a series of instructions or steps without needing a reminder. They may do one or two steps and then say, “Wait, what am I supposed to do now?” Adults with ADHD may have a tough time juggling multiple pieces of information at once long enough to evaluate and make decisions based on them. They may lose track of their train of thought, have a tough time summarizing what happened at a meeting, or keep up with a lively conversation. 

Improve Your Working Memory With These 3 Strategies

ADHD brains are unique, not broken. If you experience memory challenges and have difficulties with focus and productivity, blaming and shaming yourself for your natural biological issues only makes things worse. Start today by helping yourself: avoid self-criticism and ruminating on “deficiencies.” Instead, you can improve your memory by applying a few helpful tools and strategies.


morning routineRoutines help take chaos and guesswork out of our days, and who wouldn’t want a little more flow and clarity? For kids and adults with ADHD, the predictability of a routine means there’s less to remember (and less to forget). Start by setting up morning and evening routines which work best for you. Write them down to cue you and your family too. Morning routines can include a shower, dressing, preparing breakfast and catching up on email while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. Some may choose to include exercise, walking the dog or starting a load of laundry. Evening routines can include reading, watching tv, tidying up the kitchen or playing a game of cards. When you repeat the same sequence of actions at more or less the same time each day, you’ll find that you develop a pattern of doing the work without stressing about what needs to get done.


set alarms for remindersFor tasks which can’t easily be made into a routine, reminders that cue you tend to work best. Whether it’s a hand-written to-do list, post-it notes, digital calendars, timers or alarms, reminders mean you don’t have to worry about remembering and keeping track of all the pesky details throughout the day. Your phone and any number of useful apps can really assist with this. Some parents use chalkboards or bullet board calendars to help their kids keep track of activities and chores. Teens and adults often tend to prefer digital tools since just about everyone has a cell phone these days. With so many tools to choose from, it’s now easier than ever before to create reminders so you don’t need to rely on your memory alone. Many neurotypical folks use these aides too which can further reduce any self-consciousness.


man listeningRepetition is one of the most effective ways to improve working memory. It is what allows musicians to memorize songs and actors memorize lines. This technique is most frequently used with kids to make sure they retain instructions and information you’re providing. It can go something like this:

Mom: We need to leave at noon to get to the movies on time, so please be downstairs by 11:45. Can you tell me what our plan is please?

Child: I need to be ready at 11:45.

Mom: What time do we need to leave?

Child: Noon.

When the child repeats the information back to the parent, it is more likely to “sink in”.

Adults can apply repetition in a similar way. Either repeating information back to a friend or colleague or to themselves. If you have an upcoming doctor’s appointment, repeat the appointment time to yourself. Then repeat what time you need to leave the house.

Having ADHD doesn’t mean you have with a faulty memory. We’re all unique in different ways, and so are our brains. If you have the kind of brain which makes it harder to retain a bunch of information at the same time, see if routines, reminders, and repetition can make things a bit easier. On the other hand, if you have the kind of brain that retains particular facts, images or stories, enjoy what you recall and share your tidbits with others!