Saturday, March 30, 2019

Life with Chronic Conditions: Dealing with Brain Fog

 Is it medication? A disease? Am I just loosing it?

Many people with a chronic condition express frustration about the symptoms of “brain fog:”
• can’t remember
• have difficulty concentrating
• forgetting things easily
• don’t grasp what people are telling you
• forgetting words or using the wrong one
• having difficulties reading, concentrating on what you’re reading or comprehending what you’ve read.

Brain fog can come and go. It can be a bit of an annoyance, a source of ongoing frustration or it can significantly impact your life. Many say that it  makes them feel “heavy,” like there’s a thought (or action) you’d like to have (or do) but aren’t able to. You may feel as if you’re walking around in a haze, confused and having trouble concentrating.

Various conditions and treatments are associated with cognitive impairment including but not limited to: chronic pain, Celiac’s disease, hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (Fibrofog), heart failure, concussion and brain injury, cancers and their treatment (chemo brain), as well as normal bodily changes, such as menopause and pregnancy (Prego brain).

The causes aren’t well understood, and while it’s likely there are multiple causes, it can be a frustrating and debilitating condition.

Things to consider
• By treating conditions such as anemia, depression, sleep and early menopause, brain fog can be reduced: Therefore it’s important to talk to your medical provider about what you are experiencing. Make a list of questions and concerns before medical and other types of appointments. Take an advocate with you to help remember what you wanted to ask and what you are being told. Note that pretty much everyone experiences some form of brain fog when they go for medical appointments so it’s always good to have someone with you.

• Keep a brain fog journal. Record when you have them and if there are any noticeable triggers. E.g. Do they occur when you’ve had too little or too much sleep? Do they happen when you take a certain medication; if you have a flare of other symptoms; eat certain foods; when you are stressed; after exercising; first thing in the morning; if you over do it etc.? Pointing to a cause can help you be less frustrated and may help to reduce circumstances where they are more likely to occur.  Below is a sample of how you can track your brain fog. Careful tracking can help you and your provider come up with an approach that will work for you.

Date/day of the week BF occurred

Time of onset

Time it ended

Warning signs

Intensity of the BF(on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst


Activities/circumstances at time of onset

Time of most recent meal prior to onset/food drink most recently consumed

Medications being taken

How much sleep did you have before BF

Does the BF occur first thing in the morning

Did the BF occur after exercising or other activities?

• Avoid known triggers: Common triggers for brain fog include: energy drinks; caffeine; too much sugar; being too active; trying to multi task; being over stimulated; fatigue; stressed; not getting restorative sleep; side effects of medications.

Keep things organized: Reduce clutter and daily living chaos as much as possible. If you find the fog is worse in the morning, lay clothes out the night before. Keep a checklist posted on the front door so that before you leave the house you’ll be reminded of everything you might need. Write things down (entering them in your reminder section of your phone is fine). Other tips
-       Use pill caddies (medication boxes) to help in remembering to take medications
-       Put the items you need and use every day near your bed, if mostly bedridden, or simply in the same place if housebound or with limited mobility.
-       Always keep items you use regularly, such as your keys, in the same place.

• Build relaxation into your day. Practice restorative yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi or just lying on your bed listening to soothing music. Studies indicate that stressful situations make memory problems more likely.

• Aerobic and brain exercises improve memory and functionality: Research indicates that exercise (e.g. walking) and staying engaged mentality can reduce cognitive dysfunction. Memory and thinking exercises may help your brain repair broken circuits that may contribute to brain fog.

• You are what you eat: Certain foods appear to be helpful in retaining memory, such as nuts, while others, caffeine, sugar can have the opposite effect. Note that if you like getting your nut fix from nut butters, be sure to eat those that are just ground nuts and do not contain added oils and other ingredients.

• Let those you live, work and socialize with know about your brain fog. Develop a code word to let them know when you are having a Just saying “brain fog” will clue people in.

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