Brainfog: Cognitive Dysfunction
Cognitive dysfunction, as this phenomenon is more professionally termed, is a state of mental fuzziness or confusion that is generally caused by an underlying health issue.
Similar to the mental confusion that a normal person might suffer if they were extremely fatigued or ill with a very bad head cold, brain fog is no laughing matter. In fact it can be extremely disabling.
Brain fog feels similar to the symptoms of a bad head cold and the causes of this syndrome are many. It may develop because an underlying illness such as Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, or Thyroidism is present. It may also occur if you suffer from heavy metal poisoning, extreme fatigue, brain injury, tumor, or menopausal symptoms.
Although a person may not always discover the cause of their brain fog they certainly know all too well the many symptoms and hardships which this syndrome can cause.
So what is this dopey feeling in the brain? Brain fog is generally not classed as a distinct illness although many people spend their life suffering from its symptoms. Doctors are often puzzled by the symptoms and many times will pass them off as being imagined. Don't believe it. This syndrome is real and it can make life very difficult for those who suffer from it.
The cloud or fog that exists within the brain can make it extremely difficult to function at a normal level in day to day activities. The dopiness or brain fog as it is more commonly termed, comes with an extreme inability to focus on tasks or to remember small details.
Concentration levels can be reduced to the point that driving a motor vehicle or operating other heavy machinery can be hazardous. When driving a person might suddenly find that they don't remember where they are going, or how to use the gearshift, or even how to operate the gas and brake pedals (or for that matter which pedal is which). The effects of brain fog can be so severe that this illness can make even maintaining part time employment difficult.
Lacking the ability to concentrate can make it difficult to read or to remember what has been read. For students or those who require these skills in their job the foggy dopiness can make completing required tasks almost impossible. For those who suffer from brain fog its effects are all too real.
The symptoms of brain fog are:
1. An inability to concentrate or to focus on details.
2. A feeling of mental fuzziness or cloudiness.
3. A lack of mental clarity.
4. An inability to remember things, events, names, or details.
5. A decreased attention span.
6. Mental fatigue.
7. A feeling of being emotionally distanced or of not caring as much as you normally would in any given situation.
In addition to the above symptoms the individual may also suffer feelings of depression, frustration, or anxiety because of his or her reduced mental capabilities.
A person who suffers from any form of cognitive disfunction can find the basic processes of reading to be made more difficult. Not only is there a very strong inability to concentrate on what you are attempting to read but you may also not remember your subject within minutes afterwards.
I was twenty six years old and studying University Courses when I became disabled by a rare autoimmune illness (see: Antisynthetase Syndrome). One of the added symptoms of my illness was brain fog. It affected my studies to the point that learning was no longer fun. It was instead now a torturous attempt to grasp the new concepts that were being set in front of me.
Concentration and the learning of new concepts had suddenly became exceptionally difficult for me. Rather than moving my gaze along each page that I was reading I found myself reading the same lines over and over again.
In an attempt to repair this I began to set a guide ruler or blank piece of paper under each line so I would remember that I had read it. It helped a little but when I would finally manage to reach the bottom of a paragraph or page I would find myself staring blankly back at the words and trying desperately to remember if I had actually read them at all. Often I would catch myself simply staring at the page in a fog and not reading at all.
Reading had been an enjoyment of mine before my illness but I now found that my foggy brain made it a frustrating challenge. I discovered that I was transferring similar words in for others so that even when I did manage to read something it didn't make a lot of sense. Words such as our became are, and yew would be read as you, so I would then find myself wondering why what I had read didn't seem to make much sense. This phenomenon was also there in my written work.
Sometimes my not understanding what I was reading or writing occurred simply because I could no longer focus on the details of what I was working on. My concentration span was virtually non existent. Trying to read was now so frustrating and difficult that I no longer wanted to fight through the brain fog to even attempt it.
Brain fog combined with the severe pain and fatigue of my illness was a combination that I was not able to overcome and I was eventually forced to withdraw from my course of study. Although I had loved to read previous to the onset of my illness I have not read a complete book since I became ill. The brain fog turned my love of reading into a distant memory.
Since that time I have learned that the brain fog comes and goes in severity depending on the severity of the flare I am in. I have also found ways to work around the fogginess. The following are a few of the methods I use to aide in reading concentration issues.
1. Use a guide ruler or dark piece of paper to cover material that you have already read. Drag the guide along with you as you read.
2. Read shorter articles so that you are able to complete them without stress or frustration.
3. Read for shorter periods of time.
4. Read earlier in the day when you are more alert.
5. When it is difficult to read skim articles to find keywords that will help you understand what the article is about.
6. Repeat key phrases or words aloud to yourself. This will help you to understand and to remember them.
7. The Brain Fog will come in varying degrees at different times. To prevent frustration try to read when it is at it's lightest. If you are having a really heavy brain fog day put your bookmark at your spot and set your book aside. It will be there waiting for you when you feel better.
1. Remove distractions from your study area.
2. Get adequate rest and do your reading or studies during periods of the day when you are the most refreshed or relaxed.
3. Do not concentrate for long periods of time but instead take small rest breaks to rejuvenate your mind and then continue.
4. Try to get up and move around or to practice deep breathing during your rest periods. These techniques will increase your oxygen levels and thereby improve your brain functioning.
5. Make a conscious point to remind yourself to stay focused. Whenever you notice your thoughts moving away from what you are attempting to concentrate on direct your focus back to the task. Use a guide ruler or other device to keep your eyes focused and not wandering away from their intended target.
6. Keep a diary or journal of the length of time that you challenge your mind. By keeping track of your successful periods of concentration you may be surprised to notice that these time periods actually increase. Your awareness of the situation is actually one of the first steps in your training process.
Consume a healthy diet. Eggs are an important brain food. Containing Choline they can help improve memory and transmission of information within the brain. Omega 3-fats are another important food for the brain and can help to supply it with nutrients needed to keep your mental workings healthy and alert. These essential fats can be found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines. Omega-3 fats are also found in walnuts, olive oil, canola oil, and flax seed. Add them into your diet.
Exercise can sometimes help to decrease the degree of brain fog that you suffer from. Try getting in a short walk or two throughout the day and see if this will help to improve your condition. Oxygen can refresh every part of your body. Exercise your body - exercise your mind.
When you play mentally challenging games or learn new concepts your brain opens a new pathway within it to store this information. In effect you are increasing your mental capabilities. Encourage your mind to try new challenges and tasks. It can help to awaken your mind and your body.
When you force your brain to learn new concepts it opens up new pathways within the brain. This means that you can awaken new brain cells that are able to store this information and this may increase your ability to learn and to remember. Good news is that this can be a fun process. You don't have to learn algebra you just have to do puzzle or video games to awaken your brain.
Video games also no longer leave you sitting on the couch. The interactive games such as Wii allow you to get up and moving while you play. All you have to do is play a game or two to exercise both your mind and body.
Try to trace the triggers which make the confusion worsen. Keep a journal or notepad handy and use it to write down the times when your brain fog is heavier or lighter. Then make a note of the events which may have triggered this change. Just as there are triggers which can increase the symptoms of a chronic illness there are also triggers which increase the severity of brain fog.
It could be stress, a food allergy, time spent indoors (indicating perhaps an airborne allergy or exposure to a pollutant), illness, fatigue, lack of oxygen, lack of nutrients, or a heavy work overload, which puts you in an increased state of fogginess. You are the one who will be best able to pinpoint triggers of your cognitive dysfunction but always consult with your doctor to rule out medical issues which may be the root cause of your brain fog.
My brain fog comes and goes with the severity of my chronic autoimmune system disease. It is much worse the sicker I am and when I am feeling relatively well the brain fog disappears. It is a feeling like a ray of sunshine beaming down from the heavens when this happens. The clarity is amazing.
When you become disabled you find ways to live around the negative aspects of that illness in order to acquire the highest quality of life that you are able to. When the brain fog made it impossible for me to concentrate on my studies I fought to find a way around its cloudiness and discover a means to once again enjoy the benefits of written language. I began by only reading short articles such as those found within the local newspaper or the Reader's Digest magazine.
I found that I could skim the headlines to find the articles that most interested me. I could determine which ones I had enough mental stamina to complete and it was those that I would read in their entirety. Other articles I would simply focus on keywords and sentence groups to get the information I needed from them. Consuming shorter articles allowed me to feel content with being able to once again understand what I had read.
For longer articles I use a process of skimming and reading to acquire the information that I desire from them. I skim the article to find keywords or areas of interest. When I find a key word then that is where my focus stays, I read around those keywords to acquire the information that I am seeking and then I continue to skim the article till I come to another keyword or area of interest.
This is how I have now come to enjoy reading once again. I read bits and pieces or quips and quotes of literature. Books built on short articles that I can pick up and set down again at any time are ideal for working around the mental dysfunction. Most of my reading now occurs online because reading a complete book takes me virtually a lifetime to complete. I pick it up, read an article within it and then set it back down again.
As a writer my greatest challenge is finding and correcting the hundreds of small errors that now creep into my work. My brain no longer follows the rules it is supposed to and I find myself substituting similar words for the word that should be printed there. It can be quite frustrating. I think I spend as many hours proof reading my work as I do writing it.
I now read mainly for research purposes but on days when I feel less cloudy I will read a small amount simply for the enjoyment that it provides. Because I have so many bits and pieces of literary works that I want to work on and so little concentration with which to do it the articles I am reading or writing may not be picked up again for a month or two after I begin them. I don't mind. This is how I must function to work around the disability.