Do you have brain fog or something more serious?

Do you often find yourself struggling to concentrate, forgetting things, or feeling mentally exhausted? While these symptoms are commonly associated with brain fog, they can also be indicative of more serious health concerns. 

What is brain fog? 

Brain fog is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that affect cognitive function, including memory, focus and mental clarity. It is not a medical condition but rather a symptom of various lifestyle factors or underlying health issues. 

Symptoms: when to take notice

The symptoms of brain fog can be subtle or pronounced, and they often vary from person to person. 

Common signs include:

  • forgetfulness, such as struggling to recall names or dates
  • difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
  • challenges with multitasking
  • trouble finding the right words during a conversation
  • difficulty processing new information or following instructions
  • impaired problem-solving and planning abilities.

These symptoms can fluctuate, but when they persist, they can disrupt daily life, work performance, self-esteem and relationships. It’s crucial to communicate with loved ones and colleagues about what you’re experiencing so they can offer support and understanding.

Causes: unravelling the mystery

The causes of brain fog are as diverse as its symptoms. Factors such as insufficient sleep, inadequate exercise, poor nutrition, and stress are common culprits. Medical conditions such as arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, diabetes, anaemia and multiple sclerosis can also contribute to cognitive dysfunction. Up to 62 per cent of women report experiencing brain fog as a symptom of menopause.

Lifestyle strategies to help clear the fog

Even without a specific treatable cause, there are lifestyle changes that can help alleviate brain fog:

  • Prioritise sleep with a consistent bedtime routine and limit screen time before bed. 
  • Engage in regular exercise to boost brain function. 
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and essential nutrients. 
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption. 
  • Reduce stress through meditation, mindfulness or yoga. 
  • Keep your brain active with puzzles, learning new skills or creative pursuits. 
  • Socialise regularly to engage your mind and lift your spirits.

Adapting your environment and routine can also make a difference:

  • Establish a daily routine to structure your day. 
  • Focus on one task at a time to avoid the pitfalls of multitasking. 
  • Create a distraction-free zone when you need to concentrate. 
  • Break down large tasks into manageable steps. 
  • Tackle cognitively demanding tasks when you’re most alert. 
  • Use memory aids such as diaries, lists and reminders to stay organised.

If these strategies don’t seem to help, don’t hesitate to discuss further options with your doctor, who may refer you to a specialist.

When to talk to your doctor

If you’re frequently experiencing symptoms of brain fog or if they’re interfering with your daily activities, it’s time to consult a doctor. It’s natural to worry about dementia, but brain fog is distinct from dementia and delirium. Your doctor can help you understand the reasons for your symptoms and rule out other conditions.

But how do you broach a subject that’s as elusive as the fog itself? The key lies in preparation, articulation and advocacy for your health. 

Prepare your narrative

Before stepping into the doctor’s office, take the time to reflect on your experiences with brain fog. Dr Tessa King, a GP at Jean Hailes, emphasises the importance of providing specific details and examples. Are you finding it harder to perform at work? Is managing the household schedule becoming a Herculean task? These are tangible and  your doctor needs to hear about them.

Consider keeping a journal in the weeks leading up to your appointment. Document instances of brain fog, noting their frequency, duration, and the degree to which they disrupt your daily life. Associate Professor Caroline Gurvich from HER (Health, Education, Research) Centre Australia suggests that the more evidence you can gather, the better your GP can understand your situation. Whether you prefer a traditional diary or a digital note on your phone, the act of recording will arm you with concrete examples to present during your consultation.

Articulate your experience

When you’re in the consulting room, it’s time to paint a clear picture of your mental fog. Use descriptive language that resonates with your experience. Phrases such as ‘a physical fog around me’ or ‘my brain isn’t working with the clarity it used to’ can help convey the gravity of your symptoms. Don’t hesitate to use the term ‘brain fog’ itself; it’s becoming increasingly recognised in the medical community.

Assoc. Prof. Gurvich advises that you should tell your doctor precisely what’s happening. If names slip your mind or decisions seem more daunting than before, make it known. The more specific you are, the more your doctor can tailor advice and treatment options.

Brain fog and menopause

Unfortunately, psychological symptoms such as brain fog are often less discussed and can be overlooked as a sign of perimenopause or menopause. It’s crucial to empower yourself with knowledge about the wide-ranging symptoms of these life stages. If you suspect your brain fog is related to menopause, ask your doctor directly. Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may be a viable treatment for some women, and it’s worth exploring if it could alleviate your symptoms.

If you feel your concerns are being dismissed, remember that you have the right to seek a second opinion. Look for a GP who specialises in women’s health.

Have you experienced brain fog? How have you approached the topic with your healthcare provider? Share your stories and tips in the comments section below.

Also read: The MIND diet can help reduce the risk of dementia and loss of brain function

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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