Pacific Northwesterners know a thing or two about foggy skies. If you’re patient, on many days the sun will melt the fog away. But brain fog is different, something that sunshine cannot dissipate.
“Brain fog is a term used to describe cognitive function rather than being a disease,” said Philip Klineburger, PhD, of Samaritan Neuropsychology - Albany. “A person may feel that their thinking is sluggish, or they aren’t as sharp as normal.”
Symptoms & Possible Causes
Symptoms vary among individuals, but can include fuzzy thinking, confusion, inability to focus or multi-task and feeling more forgetful.
“You may find it harder to pull off a task you can normally do with relative ease. Or you may be slower to absorb the content of a meeting or something you’re reading. Actually, it can feel a lot like you haven’t had enough sleep,” Dr. Klineburger said.
Lack of sleep, in fact, can be the problem, he noted.
“Hormonal changes that come with pregnancy or menopause, some medications, depression, chemotherapy, long-haul COVID, and some of the immune disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and multiple sclerosis can also cause brain fog,” explained Dr. Klineburger.
“Many people even in their 40s and 50s have had significant cognitive difficulties associated with long COVID that affect their personal and professional lives, but often only show up as very mild difficulties on neuropsychological testing,” Dr. Klineburger added.
Brain Fog Is Not Dementia
“Although your thoughts feel a bit cloudy, it is different from the cognitive problems associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Klineburger said.
“Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to dementia, affect not only memory but impact a person’s ability to function in ways they always have. For example, if you’ve always handled household tasks or the family finances and you’ve stopped being able to do those tasks, we would want to know more about that. Coupled with memory loss, these functional changes could indicate more serious cognitive issues,” explained Dr. Klineburger.
Ways To Feel Sharper
In most cases, brain fog can be managed with some lifestyle changes.
“Exercise is one of, if not the best, activities you can do to preserve brain health,” said Dr. Klineburger. The exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous for you to feel benefits either. Walking at a moderate pace or swimming can be helpful to not only activate the brain, but to also tire you out so you sleep better. “If you can make your exercise social, such as walking with a group or playing golf with a friend, it makes it all the better for the brain,” he added.
The brain needs a good night’s sleep every night to function at its best. If you aren’t sleeping well, try to maintain a regular schedule of going to bed and waking at the same times each day. Keep your sleeping room dark, quiet and at a temperature you prefer. Avoid TV and digital devices before bed. Alcohol can also be problematic, noted Dr. Klineburger. “Even one alcoholic drink at night can have a noticeable impact on your sleep quality – you might sleep as many hours, but you might not get as restful and restorative sleep your brain needs to feel sharp the next day,” he said.
If brain fog is affecting your work, try writing things down to capture details in meetings to help you remember. Use calendars and the reminder function on your computer to keep on track. “As you age, the earlier you begin to develop strategies like note taking, organizing, using cell phone reminders, the better,” said Dr. Klineburger. “The earlier you learn those skills, the more likely they are to be retained and be useful.”
A healthy diet is important to a healthy brain, noted Dr. Klineburger. “Recent research is showing that diet-related inflammation can affect cognition,” he said. To avoid inflammation in the body, incorporate lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and whole grains into your meals. Avoid sugary and high fat foods. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
If lifestyle changes aren’t making a difference, and you’ve been feeling foggy for a couple weeks or longer, you may want to speak with your doctor. Further tests may be needed.
“We would need to pinpoint what the underlying condition is. This would likely involve blood work to see what’s going on systemically,” said Dr. Klineburger. “Once we know what’s causing the brain fog, we can begin to treat it.”
If you have any concerns about your health, contact your primary care provider for an appointment.
Philip Klineburger, PhD, sees patients at Samaritan Neuropsychology – Albany. You can reach him by calling 541-812-5760.