Many people know about the physical pain of fibromyalgia – increased achiness, stiffness, and tender points. However, the effect fibromyalgia can have on your memory and ability to concentrate, known as “fibro fog,” is not talked about as much. So, what is fibro fog, what are symptoms and, most importantly, what can you do about fibromyalgia memory problems?
What is fibro fog?
Fibro fog is the feeling of being in a haze. This and related symptoms can vary from mild to extreme and may occur on and off. Overstimulation, stress, poor sleep, and certain medications can cause them to worsen. Not every fibromyalgia sufferer will experience all fibro fog symptoms, but most deal with some mental confusion and decline of memory and mental faculties. Research shows that cognitive problems in fibromyalgia patients are real.
What are the symptoms?
– Memory difficulties
– Decreased alertness
– Inability to focus/stay focused
– Impaired judgement
– Lack of concentration
– Decreased verbal fluency
What causes fibro fog?
While the specifics of what contributes to fibro fog are unknown, it is known that the brain systems involved in processing perceptions of pain are also involved in regulating attention. Other chronic pain conditions can cause impaired cognition too. And, stress and anxiety change the way the brain processes information to form new memories and this may be a factor in fibromyalgia memory problems.
What lifestyle changes can help with memory problems?
Here are 10 ways to keep fibro fog at bay:
- Don’t multitask. People suffering from fibro fog find that their symptoms worsen if they try to manage too many tasks at one time. It’s best to pick one task, focus on it, and then move on to the next task. Prioritize the tasks and even the steps of each task that need your attention.
- Use lists and reminders. Write out your tasks for the day. Put Post-It notes in prominent places to jog your memory. Use a calendar or the alarm on your watch, computer or phone to keep track of appointments and remind you when to do things. Try a to-do list app like Google Keep or Any.do.
- Stick with a routine. To reduce forgetfulness, keep your life predictable. Do the same things every day in the same way. For example, always put your keys in the same place when you arrive home. If your fog is thickest in the morning, put out your clothes the night before.
- Determine your best time of day. Most of us have better and worse times of the day. Do the tasks that require the most concentration and mental clarity during the hours you are sharpest. The best time of day varies from person to person; however, many fibromyalgia patients find mornings the best.
- Be organized. Organize your house and household items so that they give you built-in reminders. For example, keep your medications by your toothbrush so you’ll remember to take them in the morning and when getting ready for bed.
- Sleep better. The quality of your sleep can affect your ability to think clearly while awake. If you’re not sleeping well, talk with your doctor about what’s keeping you awake, such as depression or pain. Or maybe you need to improve your “sleep hygiene” – the habits that surround your sleeping environment and schedule. Here are some ways to improve your sleep.
- Exercise. Although it may seem contradictory, physical exercise can actually reduce pain and sensitivity, according to the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. Exercise helps re-establish the natural neurochemical balance of the body and increase your natural “feel good” endorphins. This is helpful for fibro sufferers experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression. One small study found that fibromyalgia patients who stopped taking medication and followed a six-week aerobic fitness program had both improved memory function and less pain.
- Adjust your medications. Make sure you take your fibromyalgia medications exactly as your doctor recommends. Changes in memory and cognition could be side effects of some medications, so let your doctor know if these symptoms continue.
- Meditate. Practicing meditation helps reduce stress, and it improves your ability to focus.
- Do puzzles. Crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, and other types of brain-teasers are mini-workouts for your brain. Regularly engaging in these activities can help fend off cognitive impairment. You can find many free puzzles online or apps for your phone.
Despite anecdotal experiences of fibro fog, as well as the results of studies demonstrating cognitive impairment, doctors and patients may not be discussing these problems as frequently or deeply as they should. So, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your own experience of fibromyalgia memory problems or other cognitive issues.
Please share below about your experience with fibro fog.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.