Episodic Memory Problems

by Sue G.
(Ashford, Kent, UK)

I indeed have memory problems. I am 16, and I am currently doing a sixth form course. We always get asked past tense questions, like what did you have for dinner yesterday and i really try hard to think but my mind goes completely blank.

memory problems story
I feel humiliated and i know they're not but i feel like people are laughing at me thinking how silly that little girl is just because i can't remember.

Please help me with my case. Thanks, Sue

Doug's Reply: Everyone's brain is a little different. Don't be ashamed of how yours works, and don't concern yourself with what other people think.

It seems you have a little trouble with what is called "Episodic memory". Episodic memory is, like the name says, the ability to remember episodes, or events, in your life.

Episodic memory and Semantic memory (the ability to remember meanings and concepts) together make up Declarative memory, which is half of your memory. The other half is Procedural memory, the ability to recall how to do things (tie your shoes, for example).

As you have found out, it is possible to be strong in one area of memory and weak in another. Brain scientists think that is caused by the way a particular brain is wired in the structures of the brain responsible for those memory areas.

While there is no cure for a poor episodic memory, there are a few activities you can try that might help improve it.


1. Start a journal or diary. This is a habit I follow myself, as my episodic memory is not the best.

Here's how it works. Buy a small Moleskine notebook or other small notebook. Right before you go to bed at night, spend 10-15 minutes writing down what happened to you that day. Where you went, what you did, any interesting things that happened. Be sure to write the day of the week and the date at the top of each entry.

What this will do is help train the episodic part of your brain to try harder
to remember events in your life.

The next morning, spend 5 to 10 minutes reading what you wrote the night before, and maybe the entries from the previous few days as well. It's okay if you re-read some of the same entries over the course of several days, as repetition strengthens memory.

Consider reading the entries out loud. That will create two ways for the memories to be strengthened - through visual and auditory pathways.

2) Play brain games for 10 minutes every day. Spend the most time on games that require you to hold information in your short-term memory and that improve concentration.

Some free games on my site that may help include Brain Follow (hold a path in memory while being distracted), Pattern Memory (hold a pattern in short-term memory), Speed Cards (trains concentration, attention), and Lighting Librarian (locations of hidden objects).

mental snapshots

3) Take a mental snapshot of special moments you want to remember. Using this method, you concentrate intently on the scene, then blink your eyes slowly like a camera shutter. This helps create a vivid mental image of the moment.

4) Perform aerobic exercise regularly. Studies have shown that intense cardio activity stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain's hippocampus. Other studies indicate that episodic memories are formed primarily in the hippocampus. So stimulating neuron growth there could possibly help improve episodic memory.

Write in your journal and play brain games every day for three weeks. Start an exercise program as well (consult your physician if necessary on that). Then think about whether your Episodic memory is improving. Be focused, and don't skip any days. It will take that long to form the habits... and if the new habits are helping, keep doing them!

If you like, let us know how it goes by posting a comment below. Your experience could help many others in the world who have the same issue.

Best regards,
This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Jun 27, 2014
improving episodic memory
by: Anonymous

I have problems with my episodic memory. I can't remember the specific events that occurred 4 days ago (unless I concentrate carefully for an extended period of time), for example.

I play a ton of soccer, which helps with memory according to this article. I tried the journal idea. But after a few days, I got lazy and I stopped. I guess it is important to not get lazy.

Check out Lumosity (there's an app for that) for brain games. And I have yet to try the mental snapshot idea. It seems interesting so I will try it soon.

Doug's Reply. My episodic memory is also not the best. Consistent journal writing (including review) is the probably the most helpful activity for this.

Don't just write in the journal and put it down. To strengthen your memory of past events, it's important to re-read earlier entries.

So before writing a new entry, spend at least 5 minutes skimming through previous entries, both recent and older.

Pay careful attention to the date of each entry. And as you read the past entry, attempt to see the event again in your mind's eye. Really try to visualize and recall as many details as you can, using your written entry as a memory aid.

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