Cognitive dysfunction is one of those incredibly frustrating symptoms of fibromyalgia. Research suggests that FM patients are considered cognitively 20 years older when performing certain tasks. This affects me in myriad ways and makes me feel so inadequate when I can’t recall words or names, or lose my train of thought while engaged in conversation.
Nonrestorative or unrefreshing sleep can also increase cognitive dysfunction. For example, if I wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep, my brain is a cognitive mess the following day. When I wake up after a few hours of sleep, I am wide awake for three to four hours. Those are the days when I tend not to do much at all, and spend the day binge-watching Netflix and playing games on my tablet.
It seems normal for me to forget so many things, like new information or where I put my phone or keys. I become so easily distracted. What steps can patients take to better cope with these FM limitations?
Here are a few practical ideas:
1. Get in the habit of putting things like your keys and cellphone in the same place.
2. Keep a notepad by your bed to write down things as you think of them, plus any information from phone conversations.
3. Have a to-do list on your kitchen table or counter, and keep a running list. This is not so you feel defeated if you can’t get them done, but rather to serve as a visual reminder.
4. Give your brain some exercise by doing crossword puzzles, reading, sudoku, etc.
5. If you have a smartphone, make use of alarms, calendars, planners, etc. to keep you on task.
6. Reducing clutter really helps you not to be distracted by your surroundings. Don’t get overwhelmed by doing it all at once. Baby steps.
7. Reject the urge to multitask. Focus on one thing at a time.
8. Do some deep breathing throughout the day. For some reason, those with FM tend to be shallow breathers, so being intentional about deep breathing will do wonders.
9. If you think any of your medications are a contributing factor, talk with your doctor about it.
10. Drink water and eat as healthily as you can.
There is no easy fix for cognitive dysfunction, aka fibro fog, but incorporating the above ideas may greatly reduce your frustrations and increase your mental clarity. What kinds of things do you find work well for you?