Have you ever had those moments where you utterly and completely forgot something, or didn’t notice something? It’s the typical, “Where are my glasses?,” and they’re sitting on top of your head. It’s when I cleaned the entire kitchen counter after dinner, and instead of putting the cooked sausages away in the fridge, I just moved them from spot to spot out of my way so I could continue cleaning. And then left them on the counter. My partner walks in the kitchen a half hour later and asks, “Why didn’t you put the leftover sausage away?” Huh? What are you talking about? I never saw it. Oops.
Or…my partner yells upstairs, “Don’t forget to bring down my sneakers!” Okay, I answer. I walk down the stairs, get ready to go shopping, and she asks, “Where are my sneakers?” What sneakers? Did you ask me to get your sneakers? I don’t remember that. She can only sigh and shake her head.
Welcome to fibro fog, my friends.
The National Fibromyalgia Research Association (NFRA) describes fibro fog:
“This term has been coined by fibromyalgia patients and some treating physicians to describe the mental confusion often associated with fibromyalgia syndrome. It is actually part of the cognitive dysfunction segment of fibromyalgia. It is described by patients as a state of confusion which can last for several hours, weeks or during the entire length of a fibromyalgia “flare.” Symptoms vary from patient to patient and event to event, but taken as a whole, it is one of the most life altering aspects of fibromyalgia. People who were accountants before fibromyalgia can no longer add up figures in their own checkbooks. Shopping center parking lots become huge mazes with lost vehicles that a sick person in pain and with no energy must penetrate in order to get home. Confusion about what medications need to be taken at what times can stop a patient from taking anything causing even more pain and fatigue which only enhances the fibro fog component.”
The severity of Fibro-fog fluctuates from day to day, as well as from person to person. There are some days, I feel on top of the world, and others, I’m lucky I remember my name. The following is a list of possible signs and symptoms of fibro fog:
•Mental confusion and fatigue
•Loss of short-term memory
•Inability to concentrate
•Inability to recognize familiar surroundings
•Inability to comprehend written or spoken words
•Trouble with directions
•Short attention span
•Acquired dyslexia (includes difficulty speaking known words)
Some describe it as having a ping-pong ball loose in your brain, trying to land on the right words to say. It could be as simple as constantly losing things or transposing phone numbers. But fibro fog can seriously affect people’s quality of life.
For example, Lynne Matallana, co-founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), found that her fibro fog made it dangerous for her to drive. She had difficulty concentrating and felt less aware of her surroundings. Once she found herself running a red light. “It can be totally incapacitating,” says Matallana, 53, of Anaheim, Calif. “It’s not just being unable to come up with a word quickly, it’s a very, very serious part of this disease.”
In the past five years, physicians have been taking fibro fog more seriously, according to Daniel Clauw, MD, director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Research has shown that sufferers annually lose more than three times as much “gray matter” brain tissue than healthy, age-matched controls. And some of that loss occurs in areas of the brain that are involved in memory and concentration, says Patrick Wood, MD, a senior medical adviser to the NFA and one of the coauthors of the 2007 study.
Matallana has discovered that being overstimulated makes things far worse. “I know I get it a lot when I’m in a situation where there are a lot of fluorescent lights or a lot of background noise. Or if I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep or I’m feeling more pain. All of these things mean I can have a hard time focusing on the things that are important.”
Often I receive complaints from those close to me because I can’t seem to remember things. Someone will tell me something and then as little as five minutes later, I completely forget what they told me. It happens A LOT at work. I find myself forgetting the little things that need to be done. I misplace things easily. It takes me longer to recall information when someone asks me a question or needs me to remember what happened. It happens with my bank account. I frequently over draw my account because I added/subtracted wrong and I don’t always remember what’s in my account. I forget appointments that I need to keep. I forget what I need to buy at a store. I forget birthdays, anniversaries, words to conversations, directions when I’m driving….For someone who has always prided herself on her power of observation and ability to remember things, this is devastating! It affects my personal and work life. It’s even worse if I don’t get enough restorative sleep (which is often since I have insomnia).
In addition to focusing on getting restorative sleep, The Arthritis Foundation® shares nine tips to minimize fibro fog’s impact during the day:
1. Repeat yourself. Repeat things to yourself over and over again. Repetition will keep thoughts fresh in your mind.
2. Write it down. Whether you write in a calendar, in a notebook or on sticky notes, if you’re afraid you won’t remember something, putting pen to paper can help.
3. Pick your best time. If there is something you need to do that requires concentration and memory, such as balancing your checkbook or following a recipe, pick your best time to do it. Many people with fibromyalgia say they perform best early in the day.
4. Get treated. Depression, pain and sleep deprivation can influence your ability to concentrate and remember. Getting your medical problems treated may indirectly help your memory.
5. Engage yourself. Reading a book, seeing a play, or working a complex crossword or jigsaw puzzle can stimulate your brain and your memory.
6. Stay active. Physical activity, in moderation, can increase your energy and help lift your fibro fog. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program that is right for you.
7. Explain yourself. Explain your memory difficulties to family members and close friends. Memory problems often result from stress. Getting a little understanding from the ones you love may help.
8. Keep it quiet. A radio blasting from the next room, a TV competing for your attention, or background conversation can distract your attention from the task at hand. If possible, move to a quiet place and minimize distractions when you are trying to remember.
9. Go slowly. Sometimes memory problems can result from trying to do too much in too short a period of time. Break up tasks, and don’t take on more than you can handle at once. Stress and fatigue will only make the situation worse.
As one of fibromyalgia’s most frustrating components, there is hope for fibro fog sufferers. Understanding the following about fibro fog will allay many accompanying fears:· You are not alone in suffering with fibro fog· Fibro fog is not a psychological condition· Fibro fog is likely a result of non-restorative sleep disturbances
· Improving sleep can reduce fibro fog
· There are many ways to reduce fibro fog’s prominence in your life
The best news of all is that many individuals report that being committed to managing their fibromyalgia (by integrating western medicine, alternative medicine and lifestyle changes), has resulted in their fibro fog fading away.
Do you suffer from fibro fog? What strategies to you use to effectively manage it? How has it affected your life?