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5. Memory and learning problems in ADHD

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5. Memory and learning problems in ADHD

5.1. Forgetfulness

  • Forgetfulness
    Forgetfulness may result from distractibility, when another stimulus has so attracted attention that the previous object of attention is lost from sight.
    Forgetfulness can also result from memory problems when no other stimulus changes the focus of attention or displaces the previous subject from memory.

    • Children
      • Is often forgetful during daily activities (DSM IV / 5)
      • Frequently loses objects needed for everyday activities (DSM IV / 5)
    • Adults
      • Inability to remember actions/incidents/agreements1
      • Initial situations are no longer remembered1, which can cause the feeling of constantly being in unforeseen situations
      • Subjective feeling of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease1

5.2. Learning problems

In ADHD, the ability to learn is often impaired.
ADHD-specific learning problems result from, among other things, decreased levels of dopamine, GABA, growth hormone, and BDNF, neurotrophic substances required for neuroplasticity (the formation of new synapses). See more at Neurophysiological correlates of learning problems. Learning problems also result from executive problems (organizational problems).2

  • Ability to learn requires immediate feedback
  • Little is learned from punishment
    • Penalties are mostly issued with a time delay due to the principle
    • Punishments are therefore fundamentally worse learning reinforcers.
    • Punishments inhibit behavior; they do not act as behavior reinforcers.
    • (School) learning is (neurophysiologically speaking) a process of reinforcement, less of inhibition.
    • Even non-affected people learn better through praise and motivation than through punishment.
    • However, ADHD sufferers learn from punishment even worse than non-affected individuals.
    • Regardless, ADHD-affected children were more sensitive to punishment than non-affected children.3
  • Learning ability in ADHD appears to be independent of delay aversion or working memory problems.4

5.3. Poor memory of childhood events

In our impression, many ADHD sufferers have difficulties remembering situations or moods from childhood. It is difficult to ask questions about examples of interactions with parents or siblings.

This may be consistent with our hypothesis that ADHD symptoms are mediated by the same neurotransmitter shifts as chronic stress. Chronic stress causes the brain to store experiences in a less consciously reconstructible way. Psychotherapists often experience that trauma victims have a good memory of events prior to the trauma when the trauma was a singular, surprising event. Traumas, on the other hand, that occurred in a stressful overall situation (chronic stress) (such as persistent sexual abuse / persistent physical abuse) are much less easily remembered.

We know an adult with ADHD-HI who, unlike most ADHD sufferers we know, has excellent HRV, which is a marker of low autonomic nervous system stress levels. This sufferer has an exceptionally good memory, reminiscent of a voice recorder to some extent. We are looking for other ADHD sufferers with a particularly good memory and would be pleased to hear from them

5.4. Memory problems as symptoms of stress

Forgetfulness5 and memory problems65 7 are typical symptoms of stress.

Stress impaired

  • The implicit memory8
  • The declarative memory8
  • The working memory8

Impairments of all these memory areas are also described in ADHD, although not every ADHD sufferer shows impairments in all memory areas at the same time.9

Forgetfulness is known as a typical symptom of severe stress.5/ memory-problems510

For impairments of memory caused by stress, see above Distractibility and attention problems are symptoms of stress.


  1. Krause, Krause (2014): ADHS im Erwachsenenalter, S. 60

  2. Sibley, Graziano, Ortiz, Rodriguez, Coxe (2019): Academic impairment among high school students with ADHD: The role of motivation and goal-directed executive functions. J Sch Psychol. 2019 Dec;77:67-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2019.10.005.

  3. Furukawa, Alsop, Shimabukuro, Tripp (2019): Is increased sensitivity to punishment a common characteristic of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder? An experimental study of response allocation in Japanese children. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord. 2019 May 16. doi: 10.1007/s12402-019-00307-6.

  4. Meyer, Beckers, Tripp, van der Oord (2019): Deficits in Conditional Discrimination Learning in Children with ADHD are Independent of Delay Aversion and Working Memory. J Clin Med. 2019 Sep 3;8(9). pii: E1381. doi: 10.3390/jcm8091381.

  5. Dr. Rolf Merkle, Diplom-Psychologe: Stress – was versteht man darunter?

  6. Rensing, Koch, Rippe, Rippe (2005): Mensch im Stress, Seite 156

  7. Bartsch (2015): Störungen der Gedächtnisfunktion, Seite 44, zitiert nach Schmidtke (2013), Funktionelle Gedächtnis und Konzentrationsstörungen

  8. Dickerson, Kemeny (2004) und Kudielka et. al (2009), zitiert nach Schoofs, Psychosozialer Stress, die endokrine Stressreaktion und ihr Einfluss auf Arbeitsgedächtnisprozesse, Dissertation (2009), Seite 2 Seite 32, mwN

  9. Steinhausen, Rothenberger, Döpfner (2010): Handbuch ADHS

  10. Bartsch (2015): Störungen der Gedächtnisfunktion, Seite 44, Springer, zitiert nach Schmidtke (2013), Funktionelle Gedächtnis und Konzentrationsstörungen

Diese Seite wurde am 09.08.2022 zuletzt aktualisiert.