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When Inattention and Forgetfulness Go Together

If you have ADHD, you might take it for granted that you’re inattentive and forgetful. But why do these things seem to go together?

I believe I’m qualified to answer this question. Which is to say, I have a fair amount of experience with both inattention and forgetfulness, so I have some thoughts on how those two aspects of ADHD are connected, at least in my experience.

Things to RememberThe first is the inattention can cause forgetfulness. Commonly, this happens when we’re in the twilight zone of not fully paying attention to something but not fully distracted either – what I like to call half-attention.

A classic example is losing belongings. You set your keys down, but you aren’t really aware of the process of setting them down, so you later “forget” where you put your keys.

One of the most most frequently forgotten pieces of information has to be names, and here it can be a similar situation. I’m horrible with names, but often that’s because I’m not really paying attention when someone tells me their name to begin with.

The same holds true for any type of information. If you’re less attentive when that information is presented, you’re more likely to have trouble recalling it later. That’s why “half-attention” can let you down: even though you’re paying enough attention to give the appearance of functioning, you’re not processing information deeply enough to remember everything you need.

People with ADHD are “forgetful” in another sense: not in the sense of forgetting something, but in forgetting to do something. As in, “I forgot to mail that letter,” “I forgot to get milk at the store,” and so on.

This ties in with ADHDers’ impairments in planning and organizational skills. But it directly relates to inattention because if your attention is more prone to being captured by other things, you’re less likely to hold in mind items on your immediate to-do list.

There’s a third type of forgetfulness I want to mention: this is when you know something, but you don’t remember it in the moment you actually need the information. The other day, I was in a conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in a while and entirely forgot a piece of personal information this person had told me before, which resulted in me saying something I probably shouldn’t have said!

I think part of the reason ADHDers are prone to forgetting information we know in the moment where it would actually be useful comes back to executive functioning deficits. We tend to have impairments in summoning the appropriate cognitive resources for the task at hand, even if those resources are available to us in theory – which results in difficulties with focusing, applying what we know, and recalling relevant information in the moment.

No doubt these aren’t the only ways inattention and forgetfulness are related to each other. In fact, yes, I’m probably forgetting some other ones! So if you have anything to add, please comment below!

Image: Flickr/stealingsand

When Inattention and Forgetfulness Go Together

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). When Inattention and Forgetfulness Go Together. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Sep 2019
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