Short Term Memory Loss during Conversations & also Interrupting People
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Q:  Short Term Memory Loss during Conversations & also Interrupting People

Dr. Phelps

I have a problem with short term memory loss during conversations.  I have to ask what was being said or what did I just say. I also have a problem with interrupting people during a conversation.  In my mind I don't think I do it on purpose to hurt anyone and yet, I do.  It has gotten real bad and it is affecting my relationships; especially with my son.
I was told by a psychiatrist once that it had to do with the bi-polar and the nerve impulses and thoughts.  Do you know if this is true and what I can do about it.  I try and try and even before talking to someone tell myself to not interrupt or to keep my mouth shut during conversations that go on around me. Any advice would be appreciated.

Dear Donna --
That's a pretty complicated one. 
Without talking with you directly, it would be hard to be sure what is going on here.  But I can offer you some general principles, at least two ideas.

1.  One of the reasons for your "memory loss" in conversations could be that your mind is not really attending to what is being said.  Your mind is off doing something else, perhaps focusing on some idea you are really interested in, which you will blurt out, interrupting others.  In other words, it isn't exactly a memory loss.  You weren't "there" in the first place to make a memory and then lose it; you never made it, because you were doing something else, mentally, at the time.  At least that is one possibility.

That's important, because such a phenomenon can indeed be seen in bipolar disorder.  It is referred to as "distractibility".  It is related to "flight of ideas", where a person's mind is going faster than others', often in many directions at once. The importance is this: the problem should go away when the bipolar symptoms are fully controlled.  So in this scenario, you would want to look for other bipolar symptoms occurring at the same time, to support the idea that this problem is "bipolar" in origin. In other words, if there are no other mood symptoms going on, but you are having this problem in conversation, that would make it less likely that the problem is "bipolar" in origin.

Obviously, if you can find evidence to suggest that the problem is part of the bipolar disorder, then the solution is to target the bipolar disorder itself: better mood control should lead to better "conversation control".

2.  The second consideration that is going to arise sooner or later is "attention deficit disorder".  Interrupting conversations with impulsive comments, and being so distractible you can't focus on what other people are saying, could be part of "ADD".  This condition travels hand in hand with bipolar disorder more frequently than you would expect based on the frequency of the two conditions by themselves.  In other words, they are related, somehow.  We don't know exactly how.

And when that comes up, someone is going to wonder about giving you a treatment for ADD.  Unfortunately, some people worry that the stimulants used for this treatment can make bipolar disorder worse.  Surprisingly, given that street stimulants definitely make bipolar disorder worse, pharmaceutical stimulants actually don't seem to make bipolar disorder worse very often. Some people don't worry about it really at all.  Other people (here is an example: Ghaemi) worry about it a lot.

Good luck getting that figured out.

Dr. Phelps

Published January, 2009


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