Posted by SCAFoundation on 05/26/2009

Many of you have written to share your concerns about short term memory loss after survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

It may be comforting to know you are not alone. Many survivors in our registry report memory loss and other cognitive changes.

These changes can include forgetfulness, changes in learning ability, and difficulties with comprehension and problem solving. Not surprisingly, survivors affected by cognitive changes sometimes experience increased irritability, social isolation, subtle behavioral changes and impatience.

One study found about half of SCA survivors experience memory loss one year after the event. Another found that 40% of long-term survivors (21 months) report moderate to severe changes in both memory and concentration.

Mental status changes can be exasperated by depression and antiarrythmic drugs. And while implantable cardioverter defibrillator therapy (ICD) provides a sense of security to survivors, it is not unusual to be anxious about potential ICD shocks.

It may be helpful to recognize:
1.    SCA represents both an individual and family crisis that requires energy and time for adaptation;
2.    Learning new knowledge and skills is difficult at a time of crisis, when stress is high and coping strategies are low;
3.    Short-term memory is impaired, physical symptoms are present, and energy is low in the first month after returning home;
4.    The first three months after SCA are the most intense part of the recovery period;
5.    Recovery from SCA is both a physical and an emotional event.

Whether you are a survivor or family member, your experiences related to memory loss may be helpful to others. We welcome your comments.

-Mary Newman

Source: Cynthia M. Dougherty, ARNP, PhD, “The Natural History of Recovery Following Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Internal Cardioverter-Defibrillator Implantation, Medscape, October 1, 2001.



Submitted by dianewoodcock on 06/13/2009


Diane Woodcock writes:

My husband just had a sudden cardiac arrest and is having cognitive problems. At first when he awoke(which was 21/2 weeks after the arrest) he did not know who I was, where he lived or anything. He told the Dr. I looked like someone he should care about! He would tell the nurses that he lived in every address we have ever lived but the one we are living at now. I took him maps and showed him where we lived and reacquainted him with Kokomo. The Dr says that he suffered brain atoxia. He is gradually improving and is getting therapy once a week.

I had my arrest in March 2008.  I was told I went 9 minutes without breathing.  My wife told me that in the hospital, I only had long term memory and my short term memory was comprimised.  I have tried to figure out how much memory I lost and I estimate I loss two month's worth.  I also have some issues with my long term memory.  I can tell you this, it is really odd having people tell me about conversations I had and things that I did but having no recollection of them.

Submitted by skywolf1918 on 01/14/2010


My husband suffered sudden cardiac arrest on Nov 6 2009. I was thankful enough to be there and start CPR immediately. He spent 5 days in ICU 4 of those days on the ventilator. After he awoke we immediately noticed short term memory loss and some long term. His hands shake alot and over the past 2 months it has got worse. It is now to the point of full extremity jerks. We went for an EEG and cat scan today in hopes of finding the cause, He was down for almost 2 hours before a heart rate and blood pressure were recovered, Has anyone else experienced this late onset jerking? I am sooooo thankful to have him with me still. He is my miracle man and he calls me his guardian angel. The key to survival is immediate response.

Submitted by Floridasurvivor on 08/05/2015


My husband had a heart attack on May 24, 2015. He received CPR as well as was shocked. The records in ICU show that he was out 3 minutes before a pulse was regained. He had confusion that night after his heart cath to fix the problem but seemed to do quite well and was released from the hospital within 3 days. I am trying to figure out the differences in him and he is struggling to return to his normal self. He did have broken bones which has contributed to the slow process. We were not provided any information from the hospital or his heart doctor as to what we might experience after this ordeal. I feel that his short term memory (forgetfulness) is definitely impaired. It has taken experiences to realize that which upsets me that I was not informed by the medical people so that I could have been looking for these problems he was having and have been more sensitive to what he is going through. I would like to receive more information about the SCA and what affect it has on the brain and recovery. Thank you