Cognitive dysfunction and Fibromyalgia, including the Fibrofog

Sometimes people disagree on how to say potato. Po-TAY-toe vs Po-TA-toe.

  • With the cognitive dysfunction of Fibromyalgia, we would have the word potato in our minds and say pickle. 
  • We would want to say potato and it would come out ponatma, All garbled up. Not a word.
  • We would want to say potato… and then blank out with no word resembling potato in our mind. We would have to say pass me the round, brown vegetable that grows in the ground… you know, that! There. Pass me that.
  • We write a word like Paint and write Faints.
  • And we write the wrong letter turning Word into Work.
  • We transpose letters so Work becomes Wrok.
  • We substitute letters of letters that look similar. b’s become p’s. F’s become Ts. Further mixing up words.
  • We transpose numbers. So we have to triple check our math. 

We do all of that not even counting having issues with routine things we never had an issue with. Where suddenly your brain forgets the order of how to do that routine thing. Like stopping the car and trying to take the keys out without having put it into park.

There are concentration issues, half the brain is focusing on pain. And in general, we don’t sleep well. It affects our concentration.

Our short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory are affected by cognitive issues in studies. All accept our processing speed. So we may have troubles remember sometimes a new policy at work, and remember the old one instead. Or we may have trouble remembering information we Know we know. And we have difficulty focusing on more than one thing.

A study on cognition with FM

According to the study the FM patients performed more poorly than their age counterparts on all aspects of the study such as working memory, free recall, recognition memory, verbal fluency and vocabulary with the sole exception of information processing. The FM patients performed more like the older controls in the study except they had better information processing and poorer vocabulary. It also is suggested within this study that poor cognitive performances were correlated with pain and not depression or anxiety. The fact that “speed of processing was intact in FM patients suggests that the most basic and global information processing ability—how fast we process new information—is not a problem for FM patients. Our findings do indicate that FM patients have more limited working memory and long-term memory than do age-matched controls. The cognitive symptoms described by these patients are likely to be related to difficulties in these domains.” The intact speed of processing is quite good news if this study can be validated because it is vital to most cognitive functions. The decline in the speed of processing, in fact, might indicate deterioration of cognitive functions and “Speed decreases that occur with age have been hypothesized to be related to age-related declines in dopamine receptors, decreased brain weight, increased dendritic branching that leads to circuitous cognitive processing, or decreases in myelin sheath.” However, functionally, on all most other indicators, people with FM are operated cognitively twenty years age advanced and even more poorly indicated on vocabulary standards. Other studies have suggested pain is to blame for the fibrofog and not other factors, such as sleep. Clearly, there is a great deal of cognitive dysfunction with fibromyalgia sufferers such that a person is cognitively functioning twenty years older than they are. However many studies have validated that intact speed of processing is not affected which suggests the brain is not in the process of accelerated aging and that is a key difference. Another important thing to note is that studies have shown that anxiety and depression are not factors in fibromyalgia cognitive issues. And perhaps it is the level of pain experienced that affects cognitive abilities and certainly, that does seem like an area that needs to be explored further. We are left with knowing there are these cognitive impairments but not the specific cause for them or what is going on in the brain with enough clarity to do anything specific about it.

The Tips

  • Exercise: It indeed it helps boost our mental clarity. Even just a 20 min walk. In fact if you are working and you find your concentration is shot try getting up and taking a short walk around, sometimes the act of changing activities to motion and then getting back at it can stimulate the brain.
  • Eat regularly: Do not skip meals. In fact, have regular snacks between meals. Snacks really help maintain your energy and you will find it helps with mental fatigue.
  • Change activities or tasks: Sometimes the act of changing what you are doing, shifting the brain from one activity to another can help clear your mind. Then go back to your task and you may find your mind more focused.
  • Get sleep: This may be difficult if you have insomnia or pain or both, but good quality sleep also helps with combating mental fatigue.
  • Try boosting your B12. Low B12 can affect your concentration levels.
  • Reduce stress: Stress also can be a cause of increasing our brain fog so reducing it is beneficial. One way to help reduce it is with such things as deep breathing exercises and meditation. Even if it is just some short deep breathing exercises during the day to calm yourself down.
  • Routine is our friend: Established routines help reduce our stress by taking away any stress associated with being flustered or in a rush. It helps maintain balance in the body. It is also beneficial to make lists and reminders to help us remember things, as again this takes stress off of us when we might have issues remembering non-routine events and appointments.
  • Avoid multitasking: It has been established in studies that the brain actually works better when we focus on one thing… I suspect a lot better for those of us with chronic illness and issues with brain fog. So avoid this inclination of multitasking.
  • Remember pacing: take breaks as needed as we can overextend ourselves and small breaks can be greatly beneficial
  • Do a medication check: There are medications that can cause mental fatigue and if it is an issue that is of concern see if it is a side effect you are dealing with and ask your doctor about it.
Other brain fog posts

Monday manual: brain fog

Brain fog with fibromyalgia and depression

Brain fog: when it isn’t just about the pain

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