Have you ever felt you couldn’t find the right words or struggled to recall some fact? Or had trouble concentrating on a book or forgot the plot of the movie you’re watching? This brain fog, also called cognitive fog or cog fog, is a normal part of aging but can happen early and often when living with MS.
While initially thought to only impact functions of the body, in recent years research has found that around 50% of people living with MS experience some form of disruption to their cognitive abilities. The problems entailed in cog fog are rarely severe but can be especially frustrating parts of daily life. Difficulty focusing or thinking slowly can also be exacerbated by fatigue or medications.
What Causes Cog Fog?
Since MS is a disease of the central nervous system, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that lesions in the brain can impact cognitive function. As myelin breaks down the brain’s signals travel more slowly. Did you know that the difference between thinking normally and not being able to process logical thoughts is only 100 milliseconds? Every decade after age 20 people lose up to 10 milliseconds, but whereas aging occurs at a constant rate it can be disorienting to experience that change in a more abrupt way. Keep in mind that it’s not all necessarily tied to MS; cognitive fog can also be exacerbated by fatigue, heat, lack of sleep, physical effort, stress, anxiety and medication.
Symptoms of Cog Fog
Although cognitive symptoms can vary by person and by day, below are some of the most common ways in which cognitive fog appears.
Memory - Difficulty learning new information and retrieving stored information on demand or carrying out plans
Concentration - It may be easier for the mind to wander, which can make it harder to follow a conversation or the plot of a book or movie, for example
Information Processing - Struggling to shift attention from one topic to another or understand information being given quickly
Executive Function - Planning and problem solving skills can be impaired, as well as understanding how your decisions will impact the future
Speech and Language - This can be the feeling of a word on the tip of your tongue or feeling tongue tied and needing to really focus on conveying what you want to say
Visuospatial - This refers to how well you process and judge objects in space, like their distance or speed
Managing Cog Fog
Below are some of our favorite strategies and tactics to reduce cog fog and better manage the symptoms. We’d recommend you pick 1 or 2 to start with and apply to your life.
Get more sleep - Getting enough quality sleep has a massive impact on clarity of thought and ability to process information. If you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend the book Why We Sleep
Physical exercise - The positive impact of physical activity on cognitive function has been well documented throughout a person’s lifetime
Train your brain - Challenge yourself with crosswords, puzzles or a new hobby
Learn things in multiple ways - Strengthen a new concept or person’s name with associations. That could mean seeing something and writing it down as well, or tying each person you meet to the city they’re from
Reduce distractions - Put yourself in places and situations to avoid distractions. If you are in a crowded area, find a quieter location to better control the situation
Pick 1 task to focus on - In a world of growing distractions and smartphone notifications, deliberately deciding to work on 1 objective or task can be a scary idea but will ensure you spend your cognitive energy on what matters most to you
Conserve your cognitive energy - You have different mental strength at different times of day. Learn when your cognitive reserves are highest and you can focus on more difficult tasks
Use checklists - I personally rely on my iPhone calendar for all of my work and personal events and tasks. Leverage technology or paper like post-it notes to be a kind of external brain to pick up the slack for you
Take a break - When you’re feeling slow or foggy, recognize it and allow yourself to check out and recover your mental strength
Meditation - If you give yourself some time to regroup, meditation can be a great way to recover even faster. Try some deep breathing or use an easy meditation app like Headspace
Whether you have the occasional feeling of fog or it seems like more of a constant in your life, picking 1 or 2 techniques can be a great comfort.
While we cannot be there in person for many of you, Rekinetics has developed programs that can be delivered virtually and make an immediate impact in your quality of life in only 5 minutes a day. You can get to those options by clicking here - Start Now - or fill out a form on the Contact Us page to schedule a time to talk with our team.