Eczema and Memory Loss
It wasn't until I met my partner that I realized I had forgotten many details of my childhood. Josue, my boyfriend, remembers the finest details - from his favorite toy growing up to how he felt at his 10th birthday party to specific shows and songs he used to watch and listen to.
I felt sad about my memories
I don't remember any of this in relation to my childhood. In fact, when I first reflected on this, I had expressed to Josue my sadness in not remembering the small details. "All I remember were the troubles I went through with my eczema, the comments people made when I flared up, and the moments when my skin wasclear. That's it."
All that I didn't remember
I don't remember what my favorite toy was growing up. I don't remember listening to specific songs or how I felt on my 10th birthday. Shoot, if it weren't for pictures, I would've forgotten all of my childhood and the role I played in it.
What I do remember?
But I remember when I flared up so bad one day in high school that everyone who knew me and saw me would ask if I was okay (and I knew deep within me it was because they could see the bright red mustache flare above my lip).
Begging for ice
I remember begging my nurse for ice packs during school flares even though she repeatedly told me that extreme cold wasn't good for my skin.
Refusing to go to the doctor
I remember my mom asking me if she could take me to the doctors, and I refused, knowing they would prescribe me the same medication - topical steroids.
Being asked about my appearance
I remember when I was competing in Florida with my high school dance team, and I was so bruised and swollen at dinner that someone asked if I was wearing too much makeup. I wasn't wearing any makeup.
Moving and having clearer skin
I remember when my family moved into a new home, and my eczema magically "disappeared" for almost two years. I remember this being one of the best times of my life as I wore skirts and spaghetti strapped shirts all summer long.
When my flares came back
I also remember the moment when my eczema decided to come back again. I was waiting in line for a ride at Six Flags with my family, and I felt that tingling sensation above my lip and internally began to panic. I knew that my eczema uninvitingly welcomed herself back into my life at that moment.
So this is what I remember about my childhood growing up with eczema, and not really anything more.
Is eczema associated with memory loss?
It's no coincidence that chronic illness and living with conditions like severe atopic dermatitis can create memory loss. One article even goes as far as linking dementia in adults living with atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis and dementia
"Atopic dermatitis in adulthood was associated with a twofold increase in the risk of developing dementia late in life, based on results from a large longitudinal cohort study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology."1
Chronic pain and memory loss
Another small study showed how chronic pain impacted one's memory and concentration. The findings suggested that "pain may disrupt the maintenance of the memory trace that is required to hold information for processing and retain it for storage in longer-term memory stores."2
Surviving vs. living
When living with eczema, it feels as though our bodies are in fight-or-flight mode 24/7. We're constantly anxious about the present moment while simultaneously fearing the future and what could happen. This anxiety leads us to simply focus on surviving moment to moment. As a result, we're never really living and taking in the present moment to create such valuable memories.
Tips to remember
Here are some tips that have supported me in remembering my childhood memories:
Speak with my family and friends
Talking and reflecting on my childhood with my family and friends has greatly supported me in painting a picture of what I was like growing up and what I enjoyed doing. I highly recommend taking the time to converse with your caregivers, family members, and friends to gain a clearer image of those foggy memories.
Try visualization exercises.
I recently did a visualization where I reflected on the different childhood rooms I had growing up, and woah, did that bring up a lot of memories for me! (So much so that it made me tear up in a good way.)
Visualization exercises, especially those that are moderated and facilitated, can be of great support in helping you bring back memories. You can also start with a prompt like, "When I close my eyes, I will reflect on my childhood bedroom growing up, and I will recall what I remember seeing, how it smelled, the position of furniture, the color of the walls, and much more."
Oh, how much I love journaling. Journaling helps me get out of my head and get my thoughts onto paper. Similar to visualization, you can start by writing a question or a prompt and directly answering it in your journal. You can even draw out your responses or create a storyline of events.
A commitment to remembering
In reflection of all of this a few years ago, I had committed myself to remembering. Remembering my childhood. Remembering the times I had forgotten about my eczema, like when I was dancing on competition stages and hanging out with friends. Remembering when I tried eggs for the first time as a child and didn't get an allergic reaction.
The value in my memories
So although my memories sound and look different from that of my partner's and friends, they are the memories that made me who I am today. They mirror the side effects of living with severe atopic dermatitis. They remind doctors and researchers that eczema affects us more than just our physical bodies.
I'm just happy and grateful that I am aware of this. So that I can find my way back into who I am at my core - a little girl living beyond her eczema.
On an average day, how would you rate your level of anxiety related to atopic dermatitis?