10 Tips For Navigating Your Way Through Brain Fog

 

There are several chronic ailments that affect cognitive function. Also, certain medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion. The non-medical term for this is brain fog, and it seems pretty apt. I like to compare it to trying to run while knee-deep in mud.

I’ve been dealing with varying amounts of brain fog for the past 14 years due to fibromyalgia, occasional bouts of low glucose levels, and neurological effects of Sjogren’s syndrome. I figure I’ve lost probably 15 points off my IQ. While I haven’t been able to rid myself of the fog, I have developed tricks to cope with it and minimize its effects. Here are my top 10:

1. There’s an app (or pocket calendar) for that.

With smart phones and various other portable electronic devices, you have many options for storing appointments, phone numbers and keeping to-do lists. Some devices let you record memos, handy when you think of something important when you’re away from home. If you’re like me, though, and have trouble learning how to use electronics, you can always go old school. I keep a pocket calendar and a notepad and pen in my purse at all times as well as next to every phone in the house (yes, I still have plug-in phones because I can never find a cordless when it rings). Whenever I make a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office, I check my purse calendar to make sure that date isn’t taken and then write the appointment down immediately. The calendar has a section for phone numbers and addresses. When I need to remember more than three things (that seems to be the magic number where I max out my brain), I make a list on the notepad. I also keep typewritten lists in my purse of all my doctors and medications as well as a small cheat sheet for computing tips.

2. The “fibromyalgia” purse (or wallet).

It is said that one shouldn’t plan to fail, but with cognitive dysfunction, one should plan to forget, just in case. My tendency to space out important things like my driver’s license and credit cards without noticing led me to acquire what I have nicknamed the “fibromyalgia” purse. It is medium-sized but has pockets for all the items I need to keep track of. Everything I carry has a designated space in the purse so I can find them quickly and can tell immediately if I am missing anything. A few years ago, I accidentally left one of my credit cards on a checkout counter and left the store. But I looked in my purse once in my car and saw the empty slot where the card was supposed to go, and I knew then what I had done. I got back to the store before anyone had a chance to run off with my card. Another necessary feature of a “fibromyalgia” purse is a long shoulder strap that allows me to carry the purse crosswise on my body, wearing it like I would another article of clothing. This means I won’t have to set the purse down every time I need to remove something from it and lessens the chance of me losing it.

3. Use it or lose it.

Your brain needs daily exercise just like your body. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to accomplish. Do puzzles that appeal to you, like jumbles, Sudoku or crossword. Play board games or watch TV game shows. It doesn’t matter if you get the answer before the other contestants do. It doesn’t even matter if you get the right answer. What counts is the act of trying to figure it out. If you can handle it, read daily too.

4. Take advantage of your best time of day.

You may notice that mental tasks are easier during certain hours, so if you can, do your most important activities then. I am slow to wake and know not to hop right out of bed and try to drive somewhere because I could get lost then. It is also unwise for me to attempt something mentally taxing after supper. Ideally, I try to be productive beginning approximately three hours into my day. That is when errands, phone calls and social activity work best for me.

5. Eliminate distractions.

When you have cognitive dysfunction, there are certain times when multi-tasking could be dangerous. I have learned not to engage in conversation while cooking because once I try to pay attention on what is being said, I will completely forget I have something else going on until the smoke alarm sounds. If you are studying something you will need to remember, you might want to make sure the television, computer and any source of music are all switched off until you are done. While you are driving, do not do ANYTHING else. Better yet, if you are traveling with another person, have them drive so you might still be able to chat safely.

6. Stressing out about brain fog leads to MORE brain fog.

Ever panicked during an exam and forgotten all the information you spent hours studying? Strong emotion can make brain fog worse. The next time you go completely blank, instead of becoming angry at yourself or freaking out, take a deep breath and wait a moment. You may find you still have the knowledge and be able to access it when you are calmer. If what you wanted to do or say or remember is truly gone, it is generally not worthwhile to beat yourself up over it. Keeping a sense of perspective and a sense of humor helps.

7. Out of sight, out of mind.

Sometimes being too tidy works against you. I find that when I put items away that I’m going to need later, I forget about them completely. When I have something to mail, I put it right on top of my purse to remind me to take it with me the next time I leave the house. Paperwork that needs to go in the basement at some point I put in plain view on the corner of the kitchen countertop nearest the top of the staircase. And items associated with a particular project on the computer get stacked right in front of the monitor, probably to the annoyance of my husband, but it gives me a visual gauge of how much time I need to set aside to clear the pile. If you are on a lot of medications and/or nutritional supplements, sort them into pill minders and put the pill minder someplace near where you will likely be at the time you need to take them. For instance, my morning medications are on a shelf on the headboard right next to my pillow so I will remember to take them as soon as I get out of bed. Leave sticky notes on your bathroom mirror if that helps.

8. Keep it simple to feel less stupid.

When running errands, do them in an order that is logical to you, such as beginning with whatever is closest to your home and working your way outward so you don’t confuse yourself by backtracking. Type up a permanent grocery list on the computer of what you use regularly, print out copies and check off items as you run out of them rather than racking your brains on shopping day figuring out what you need. Try making one-dish recipes so you don’t have to keep track of multiple appliances at once. Don’t make anything more complicated than it needs to be. If there is an important project that absolutely must get done that day, tackle it first so you don’t get sidetracked by any time-wasting frivolous activities. The easier you make it to succeed, the better your sense of accomplishment will be and the less frustrating your brain fog will be.

9. Routine may be boring, but it’s easier to remember.

Become a creature of habit. If you do the same thing at the same time each day, it will be easier to recognize when you’ve accidentally left something out. I used to forget to eat meals until I started doing them by the clock. At bedtime, calmly envision your plans for the following day in chronological order, including what you intend to wear and eat and accomplish. The repetitiveness of make a mental list of even the most ordinary activities could very well lull you to sleep, which is the general idea. I find that when I have already decided the night before what my meals and attire will be, it frees up my brain a bit for other things.

10. Garbage leads to garble.

Take the best physical care of yourself that you can. Fatigue can exacerbate brain fog, so develop good sleep habits and seek medical advice in the case of persistent insomnia. Eat small, frequent meals containing lean protein and fresh fruits and veggies (unless your doctor instructs otherwise) to keep your glucose and energy levels stable. I find drinking green tea helpful, and drinking plenty of water generally doesn’t hurt. If you are capable of exercise in any form, do so regularly. Also engage in regular periods of relaxation. Balancing activity with relaxation will make you feel less overwhelmed in general, which enhances clearer thinking.

Finally, make sure you haven’t overlooked a concurrent untreated medical condition that could be contributing to your brain fog. Have your thyroid and glucose levels checked periodically. If you experience a sudden dramatic worsening of cognitive dysfunction, particularly if it is accompanied by severe headache, numbness or loss of motor skills, head straight for the emergency room.

Dealing with a brain that no longer works quite right is a challenge. But I do my best to make sure it doesn’t ruin my life.

 

Article written by staff writer, Karen Brauer

 

Karen Brauer is a happily married woman in her forties living in a little house on the prairie. Her passions include: photography; classic and some modern literature; classic, foreign and some modern film; and music of all kinds. Her blog is called “browser life”: http://browserlife.blogspot.com/

 

©2017butyoudontlooksick.com
  • wisdomandtruth

    I think this was not so much brain fog as shock. Give yourself a break, but do everything very deliberately in a car. Cars kill more people than anything else and almost every time someone, uh-oh, wasn’t paying attention!

  • Belle

    How unprofessional! Good call for ditching him. 😛

  • Cheryl Jean

    Wonderful suggestions.

    Here is a funny now, but not so funny at the time story to tell:

    I was in a period of pretty severe fog for a while and one day I was backed into a friends driveway to pick up a large package. When I went to leave I put the car in reverse and ALMOST knocked down their garage door. This wasn’t the fog part, that could happen to anyone… the fog was when I looked at the gear shift, saw I was in reverse, but still could not figure out why I had gone backward. I had to sit there for over a minute before I figured out what to do next. When I told my neurologist (ex-neurologist) this as an example of the fog I had been experiencing he said to me, “well you are blonde!” Are you kidding me? I never saw him again.

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  • Paula C.

    How in the world did you date, let alone get married with this issue?

  • Michelle

    My life since getting Fibro and CFS/ME has been non stop fog – every day all day for the most part. Can’t concentrate or focus on anything for any long periods of time. Reading is extremely difficult for me (usually can only read/retain what I’ve read for only about 5-10 minutes if its casual reading or maybe 2-5 minutes if it involves a lot of concentration/remembering…don’t even get me started on filling out forms! lol) as well as retaining information/forgetfulness. It’s so frustrating. That’s why I rely so much on my phone and it’s calendar/alarms/reminder functions. That and my family writing down appointments, etc., too so if I forget – they’re more likely to remember. Thank you for the article – very helpful!

  • I’ve just had to stop work because brain fog has become so bad I mess everything up.

    My mornings are still fairly good, so I write my blogs and work on the book I’m writing as soon as I get up in the morning.

    After that, I’m pretty much a zombie for the day. My 21-year-old daughter now has access to my bank account and is making sure the bills are paid, because I’m messing up anything with numbers.

  • This is a great article!  I too suffer from fibromyalgia and brain fog.  I’m going to incorporate your suggestions into my life in hopes of not forgetting so many things.  I especially like the printed grocery list.  Thank you for sharing!

  • Marilyn

    Good article, and I have used just about every suggestion. But I swear, the next time I forget something and someone says, “You’re just getting old, we all do that,” I am going to hit them.

  • Karen! This article was sooo good and I am so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner! (blame brain fog) 🙂

  • Lorrie

    I’m alone most of the time so my quirky habits for managing my daily life are largly un-noticed. When Hubby or other family/friends are in the house it’s more distracting and my fog seems worse. I have gotten in the habbit of announcing my every move. “I’m going to the bathroom and then I’m getting a cup of coffee.” When I come back into the room without the coffee Hubby will remind me. Sometimes I get to the doorway and just look back at him and he says, “Bathroom, coffee”. Very Helpful.
    He has also bought several electric appliances for me. An egg cooker for boiled eggs with a loud buzzer when it’s done, after I boiled a pot dry a couple of times, and a jar opener since the pain in my wrists prevents me from doing that. A food processor to cut down on chopping time, and large handled kitchen tools. He cooks all weekend making plenty for leftovers because he knows that although I love to cook it is one of the skills I am loosing both phisically and to brain fog.
    A Fibromite friend and I exchange a phone call everyday to check on each other. We whine, complain, cry, compare meds, talk about Doctors visits, grumble about people who don’t understand and praise our husbands who have patients and go above and beyond and we try to share a laugh or uplifting moment.
    A supportive spouse and an understanding friend is the best medicine for Fibro sufferers.

  • I am loving these tips. Thank you!

    I think also I’m a list person and I get frazzled when I have a lot to do and can’t see it on paper (yes paper – not iphone).

    So I write it down and examine and can plan better. I guess that goes along with keeping a routine as well.

  • Karri

    Thank you Karen. I just wish my father did not get so mad that it takes me 10 minutes to get out the door when I go to his house to go somewhere and when he comes to get me at my house to go somewhere. I have to check and make sure I have everything and the lights and tv is off, I have my keys etc….
    He also believes I blame my “lazyness” on my lupus and fibro and this angers me so much!

  • Linda

    Thanks for this article. I might add though that some of us with Fibro have it so severely that carrying or even wearing a bag crossed over our body as you suggest can add to our pain. I have given up carrying a purse and found that my shoulder and neck pain reduced quite a bit. It’s hard to realize that even a slight bit of weight can bunch our muscles into painful knots over time because it takes us much longer to release a tensed muscle than a normal person. I now have a very small card case to carry the must have cards in, it slips easily in my pocket. I keep an extra hairbrush in the car to freshen my hair and since I wear little make up I have found I do not need nearly as many things as I used to carry.

    I also find that using technology not only helps to keep my brain active, but also helps me to overcome the most difficult brain fog days. I play scrabble on facebook. Some days I can only remember how to spell 3 letter words, but this game is played with strangers that don’t know you from beans so it’s much less an embarrassment to have a stupid day with them than it is with the family or friends that know me well. I also use a gps to plan my routs for the day, if I load the locations that I want to go to in advance of becoming fatigued I can find my way back to my house without having to remember which one I live in. Believe it or not I got brain fog once so bad when driving that by the time I got home I drove up and down my street 3 times before I finally remembered I was the only one on the block with a red roof. By the way I had only lived in this house for 18 years at the time haha. My gps is my best friend 🙂

  • Yaneth

    I had bacterial meningitis and sepsis when I was in second grade, and I’ve had numerous other diseases (currently epilepsy and refractory acute chronic ITP). The bacterial meningitis by itself affects the brain and all the other year’s worth of treatments along with epilepsy have played a major role in my cognitive memory, function, hand and body tremors, etc.

    I have worsening with previous problems like mixing words when I talk, having problems reading and writing. I had problems with the reading before, but definitely not as severe as now. Now it’s happening almost every day and it’ll last much longer. I’m reading, then all off a sudden I don’t know how to read. I just stare blankly at the page (now it’s the Nook screen, yay for me!! Lol). It used to be that I wouldn’t be able to recognize SOME words like “the” or simple things like that, but now I move my eyes through the entire page, and I don’t recognize ANYTHING. It’s lasting longer than before.

    I’ve noticed this for the first time when I’m typing. As I’m typing, I’ll type completely different words than I wanted or was thinking… words that are not even closely spelled alike. I used to have problems with the ordering of the letters in the words, ex. if I wanted to write “problems” it’d write “bpmsoelr” – it has all the letters, but A BIT out of order. Now, I’m not even writing the word I’m thinking of. Somehow my fingers are typing up something completely different than what I want. Yeah, that’s some scary stuff…

    Oh, and memory… well yeah…. I’ll be typing something and I’ll forget what I’m tying MID WORD, and I don’t have the slightest idea by looking at the previous words.

  • Joan

    Carol, I have phoned myself more times than I can remember lol. an other good one is forgetting where I parked and going around the lot clicking my key fob to see where the beeps come from lol. One thing I am still working on as it embarrasses the heck out of me is I can be talking away to someone and my words just drop off my tongue and I can’t remember what I was saying. Or not being able to remember names. I don’t know how to get around those two as your caught off guard and stand there like an idiot. Anyone got any thoughts or ideas on those last two topics?

  • Joan

    Back in 2007 I bought an ipod touch for that very reason. It has been one of the best investments I have ever made. I have Fibro as well as Sjogren’s and other Chronic health issues. Plus I am almost 55 and could be going through Menopause. I don’t really know, because back in 1983 I had a partial Hysterectomy so haven’t had any visits from Aunt Flo to know if I have missed a visit or 10 or not lol. So because many of the symptoms overlap each other, who knows. I put everything in my itouch, when I go to see my Rheumy she now asks for my list. between visits I will add things to the list that I need to address, then when I go see her I just give her my itouch, opened at that page and she reads them off and aks me questions. it is a great way to do it. even when I’m leaving my Rheumy I put my next appointment into the itouch right there & then. I have my shopping list, to do lists, phone numbers & addresses, on my calendar it has two reminder alerts so I will do the first alert for the day before and the second for 2 hrs before. It has saved me so much hassle & embarrassment. I also do the quizzes, and some online games like finding pairs of things etc. It’s a great idea though to post the top 10 list. thank you for that.

  • Easter

    What a fantastic article!
    I have RA and Lupus and am on several medications. In the hope that I will be stretching and limbering damaged finger and wrist joints, I regularly try to play piano (this is difficult as there are two fingers that I cannot use at all) and this morning, I tried to play a piece that I know by memory and I could not remember it. I was so upset about it that I cut the time short.

    This is not a regular thing for me to forget something that I know inside and out, but I will often forget what I have to do during a day – or worse – forget what a conversation was if I am doing something like cooking! There are days that this is worse than other days, and I believe that you are right; writing everything down is really the only way to go. I like the electronic toys so I synch my computer, phone and calendar to remind me of all that I need to do. I also keep a notebook in my purse and write down EVERYTHING that has some importance.

    I love the idea of carrying a list of medications as I always forget the specifics when I am at my Rheumatologist or GP.

    Thank you so much for the tips! I will definitely be applying some of them to my life. 🙂

    Easter Ellen

  • Liz

    Great article. I’ve had FMS for 26 years, but the fog is much worse in the last few years. If it gets worse after staring Lyrica, it’s worth checking with your Dr. Some of us have a very adverse cognitive reaction to Lyrica. Bummer, because it’s very effective for pain. I wasn’t able to drive without getting lost, so stopped taking it in order to keep working.

  • Kathy

    I am so glad to read that I am not the only one with brain fog. I used to think it was long term stuff I could not remember, now it can even be 5 minutes ago.. Walk into a room and forget what I went in there for.. What I hate the most is not remembering my old friends… Even with a picture.. I am so glad I found this web site. A friend (one I can’t remember) recommended it to me. So glad she did..

  • Carol

    Just wondering if I am the only one here that has to use my landline phone to call my mobile phone so I know where it is.

    I have so many small notebooks that I can’t remember which thing I wrote in which. I now have a special one, with a pretty blue cover, for just books that have come out, books I want to request from the library and books I have requested.

  • Sherrie

    Thank you so much for this article! I lose so many hours of my day trying to remember where I was heading or what I was going to do!

    I think we are harder on ourselves than we should be – but – that gives me something to strive for the next day!

    Blessings and gentle hugs and a HUGE thanks for this article!

  • Judy

    many,many thanx for confirming what i do on a daily basis. my brain fog seems better on some days than others. i try not to overdo, cause i know my fibro will go into overdrive if i do! that only makes everything worse. great article! GOD bless! judy

  • Natty

    Ah Karen, great article.
    Setting a reminder on my smart phone right now to print that off later and stick on my bathroom door so i can look @ it in the bath etc.
    Think that’s really gonna help.
    Now if I can show it to other people they’ll understand why my vocabulary fails me completely sometimes!!
    Thank you

  • Darlene

    What I have found helps me is a larger pocket calendar (I use a moms plan it one); I can see at a glance how busy my week will be and plan accordingly. During periods of extreme busyness, I need to be able to plan a “down” day to recoup.

    Also, I will craft a “to do” list for everything I want to accomplish. And I’ve learned NOT to beat myself up if stuff has to carry over. Most of my immediate family and friends have gotten used to the new me. I just wish I was!

  • Pam

    Thanks, Karen

    This is a great list of tips! I use the “fibro purse” idea at work with my desk…everything has a place and had better be put back when done using it. Another idea for “use it or lose it”. If you play an instrument, be sure to keep at it. Music is good for the mind and the soul.

  • Lara

    those are great tips!

    not freaking out it so important. You’ll be amazed at how many things you actually get right compared to the number you mess up.
    but we tend to focus on those and make things worse.

    cutting yourself some slack is also very important.

    great article! 🙂

  • I hate the times I get brain fog; but love my smart phone – it even has an app that lets the kids add items to the grocery list from their smart phones and computers. As soon as anyone empties anything (or with important things like the pack of toilet paper – if anyone gets to half-way of anything) they put it straight on my list. Phone also keeps my calendar, my diary, all my passwords (in a secure “safe”), all the other information that can suddenly disappear.

  • Janet

    Boy can I relate to this article! I, too, do not drive on a lot of days because I don’t trust myself. I do so much of the exact same things you do. Thank you for the article.

  • westomoon

    Ah yes, brain fog, that old friend. There are days when I don’t drive, because I don’t trust myself to process all the incoming data and respond quickly and safely.

    I’d like to add a note to item #8: Don’t leave the house on errands without a list of those errands. As you go along, you get tireder, and it becomes more likely that you’ll forget all the stops you intended to make, or what you need to do there.

    I use a sticky note — for this, and for most other times I need to shore up my brain’s functioning. If you get the all-surface kind, you can attach them to whatever you’re most likely to notice as you get tired — the grocery list, a pack of cigarettes, the dashboard, your PDA or paper datebook, the car keys…

  • Great article. A lot of these adaptations are familiar, I do similar things too. Will have to develop a whole new set of routines when I move because I will be going out more, and pack things in a way that I can just grab one thing on my way out the door.

    Being a guy, I don’t use a purse. But my daughter gave me a fisherman’s khaki vest with a couple of dozen pockets. I use that for everything and got used to which pocket my wallet goes in, which pockets my art supplies and other things go in. When I get settled into my new place, keys will go on my pocket knife in the pocket that lives in.

    If I’m wearing it, I know that I’ve pretty much remembered everything. But remembering to put my lighter and smokes into my pockets before going can still be a problem sometimes since I keep my lighter out next to me when I’m home.