Learning Difficulties for People With PTSD

University students taking exam

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If you have PTSD, you may know that it can increase your risk for learning difficulties. Like many people, you may tend to think of learning difficulties as largely concerned with education. But learning difficulties can also involve such important areas of your daily life as memory and attention.

Specific Types of Learning Difficulties in PTSD

If you do have memory or attention problems, you aren't alone: Many people with PTSD struggle with these learning difficulties. Here are some examples.

How are you at remembering words, facts, and details of things that happened in the past? Compared with people who don't have it, people with PTSD tend to have problems with remembering:

  • Words (verbal memory)
  • Facts and other important information, such as appointments
  • Specific details of past events, especially with regard to traumatic events

They may also have difficulty concentrating and be easily distracted, which makes it hard for them to pay attention when doing tasks. Difficulty concentrating is one of a number of common symptoms of PTSD.

Why Does PTSD Affect Memory and Attention?

There are a number of reasons why people with PTSD may have these learning difficulties.

  • High Levels of Anxiety. When you're feeling very anxious, it can interfere with the way your brain encodes information into your memory. That can make it harder for you to remember minor details. High anxiety levels may also limit your ability to notice things that are going on around you or interfere with your ability to focus on a task. This can happen when you feel so anxious about being anxious that that becomes all or most of what you can think about.
  • Depression and Substance Abuse. A person with PTSD who has either or both of these disorders—especially substance abuse—is even more likely to have problems with memory and attention.
  • Problems Sleeping. As you may know, many people with PTSD have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. If that sounds like you, and you're less alert during the day as a result, you're likely to be less able to remember things and focus your attention effectively.

Getting Help for Learning Difficulties

If you have PTSD and are having problems with your memory or ability to focus your attention, there are a number of easy techniques that you can use to remember and focus better. You may also benefit from learning techniques for controlling your attention, such as mindfulness.

And here's some good news: Your PTSD therapy to reduce your symptoms may also help with any learning difficulties you have.

It's been shown that people who are successfully treated for their PTSD often find that other areas of their lives improve as well.

If you think you may have one or more learning difficulties in addition to PTSD, and you don't yet have a healthcare provider who can work with you to set up a treatment plan, it may be time to look for one. If you're not sure how to do this, ​there are several websites that offer free searches. Use them to help you locate mental health providers in your area who treat people with PTSD.

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Article Sources

  • Qureshi, S.U., Long, M.E., Bradshaw, M.R., Pyne, J.M., Magruder, K.M., Kimbrell, T., Hudson, T.J., Jawaid, A., Schulz, P.E., & Kunik, M.E. (2011). Does PTSD Impair Cognition Beyond the Effect of Trauma? Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 23, 16-28.