Coping with Fibromyalgia – Tackling Fibro Fog

Monday, June 10, 2013

How Fibromyalgia Can Interfere with Memory and Thinking & Strategies to Help You Clear the Fog:

Despite technological advances, it seems our lives are busier than ever. Have you ever had so much on your mind that you put the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator? Most of us have experienced similar situations, especially when stressed. It is normal for people to occasionally misplace their keys, struggle to pay attention during conversations, or have difficulty concentrating on paperwork. However, for people with fibromyalgia, these problems with concentrating and remembering may happen more frequently, and can be more severe.

The problems fibromyalgia patients often experience with short-term memory and cognitive dysfunction is referred to as “fibro fog” or “brain fog.” The foggy feeling within the mind is enough to cause anxiety on its own, which only increases associated difficulties.  Fibro fog can be frustrating, frightening, overwhelming, and interfere with quality of life. This can become an uncomfortable and vicious cycle, so working on lessening the occurrence of flare ups is important for a fibromyalgia sufferer’s mental and emotional well being.

Symptoms of Fibro Fog:

Patients who suffer from fibro fog report a variety of symptoms such as: being forgetful, losing their train of thought, mixing up words, and sometimes feeling confused. Patients report that fibro fog can affect their concentration, and ability to express themselves in both written expression and in conversations. It also affects planning their everyday lives, and doing complex mental tasks. Bouts of dyslexia may also occur. Fibromyalgia may also be accompanied by extreme sleepiness and fatigue which, along with the other symptoms of fibro fog, can cause irritability. If you believe you are experiencing problems with fibro fog, there are several strategies that may help you deal with these effects.

What Causes Fibro Fog?

To understand how to help with the symptoms of fibro fog, it is first helpful to look at what causes fibro fog. Researchers are looking into the connection between fibro fog and co-existing issues such as chronic pain, sleep difficulties, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

One of the most popular theories about fibro fog is that these problems are caused by sleep deprivation and/or depression, both of which can affect cognitive function.

Additional research shows that chronic pain itself may affect the brain. Researchers conducting studies using a type of magnetic resonance imaging called “functional” MRI found that, in people with chronic pain, a front region of the brain mostly associated with emotion is constantly active. They discovered that the affected areas of the brain fail to “shut off” when they should, which wears on the neurons and disturbs the balance of the brain as a whole.

Steps To Help You Cope With Fibro Fog

The good news is that there are steps you can take to ease the effects of fibro fog: 

1. Get enough sleep: It is common knowledge that not getting enough sleep interferes with the ability to think clearly. Fibromyalgia patients often have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. The more sleep-deprived you are, the more symptoms of fibro fog you are likely to suffer from! The solution to getting more sleep depends on what is keeping you awake. So, work with your doctor to find out what is interfering with your sleep, and then take steps to address the problem.

2. Exercise: Exercise can increase your energy and help lift your fibro fog. Being physically active increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. The increased blood flow to the brain that occurs when our hearts pump faster improves concentration, learning and memory. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program to determine the workout plan that is right for you. Then, start slowly, and build up gradually. Low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, are usually recommended for people with fibromyalgia. Make exercise fun! Exercise with a friend, or start a walking group. Vary your workout: on some days, go for a walk; on other days, try water aerobics or a “water walking” class at a pool. Or, use exercise DVD’s at home to vary your workout. This will help prevent boredom, which is the most common reason that people give up exercising.

The benefits of moderate exercise, especially for patients with fibromyalgia, are numerous: it improves sense of well-being, strengthens bones, strengthens muscles, helps with range of motion of painful muscles and joints, improves quality of sleep, burns calories and makes weight control easier, increases cardiovascular health, reduces anxiety levels and depression, secretes endorphins which lift your mood, improves outlook on life, relieves stress associated with a chronic disease, and increases energy.

Don’t become discouraged when starting a new exercise routine. After getting permission from your physician, try sticking with your program for two weeks. After that, it will most likely have become a habit, and you will look forward to your workouts!

3. Engage yourself: Reading a book, seeing a play, or working a crossword puzzle or word game challenges your mind and stimulates your brain and your memory.  Marie Palinski, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You says, “When stuck in a rut, we’re constantly treading the same brain pathways. Engaging in a new activity literally wakes up our brains.” That’s because the brain has to lay new neural pathways to process new information.

4. Fibro fog lifter - Practice meditation, yoga, or tai chi: Stress can make fibromyalgia symptoms much worse. Relaxing activities such as yoga, tai chi and meditation can improve problems with sleep, fatigue, poor memory and anxiety – all of which are linked to brain fog, according to many studies. For example, women with fibromyalgia on an eight-week program of meditation and gentle yoga poses had a 42% drop in depression and 30% decline in fatigue, according to a 2010 Oregon Health and Science University study. Yoga also reduces inflammation, which can trigger fibro fog, a 2010 Ohio State University study found. Researchers discovered that program participants actually had lower levels of two inflammatory markers in their bloodstream - cytokine interleukin-6 and IL-6.  

5. More valuable tips to combat fibro fog: Find what works best for you. These will not apply to everyone.

Peak performance: Pick your best time to do tasks that require concentration and memory. Many people feel that they perform best, and are more alert early in the day.

Repeat yourself: Repeating things to yourself over and over again, helps you remember and can help keep thoughts fresh in your mind.

Write it down: Make “to do” lists to stay on top of things: Use reminders to stay on track. Make lists, leave post-it notes for yourself, or write on a calendar or in a notebook. Use the ABC system of categorizing what things are most important to accomplish each day. Utilize technology to help you stay on schedule: type reminders into your computer or cell phone. Research apps to help you stay organized. Pick the combination of strategies that works best for you!

Pace yourself: To help prevent being overwhelmed, give yourself the time you need to finish a task. Don’t rush. Break up larger tasks into a series of smaller steps, and complete one at a time. Be patient with yourself. Try not to do too many things at once. Don’t take on more than you feel comfortable handling. Stress and fatigue will only make things worse.

Set goals: Set goals, and then plan the steps to get you there. Celebrate your accomplishments and be proud of your progress. Prioritize your time. Simplify. The less complicated things are, the better you may be able to cope with fibro fog. Look at this strategy as your new normal. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish, because you will conserve energy and time, by working smarter, not harder!

Manage your environment: 

Move to a quiet place to minimize distractions when you are trying to concentrate.

Reducing clutter in your living space helps you to be more organized, and remember where things are. Create a daily routine for yourself.

Sticking to a routine may help you remember what tasks you have to do each day, and in what order to do them.

Ask for help and support when you need it:

Getting support from loved ones can help. Enlist the help of family members and close friends. It helps when the people around you understand what you are going through. Talk about the challenges of fibromyalgia, and ask for help and support.

A Note for Family and Friends:

Experiencing fibro fog can be frustrating and stressful. Family and friends can play an important role in helping a loved one with fibromyalgia manage the memory and thinking problems associated with fibromyalgia. Here are some things that families can do to help:

Suggest how larger tasks can be broken up into smaller steps and complete one at a time. Don’t rush them.

Suggest going together to medical appointments to take notes and to help remember and review important information.

Talk openly about fibro fog with each other. This may help reduce any stress or distress that both of you may be feeling.

Learn as much as you can about fibromyalgia. Stay positive and be encouraging.

Bear in mind that we all have good days and bad days. Sometimes, the symptoms of fibromyalgia will be worse than other times.

Work with Your Physician to Learn How You Can Cope With Fibromyalgia and Live Your Best Life!

Depression, pain and sleep deprivation can influence your ability to concentrate and remember. Getting your medical problems treated may indirectly help your memory.

 Utilizing support and strategies, combined with partnering with a knowledgeable physician, can help the patient develop a plan to cope with fibromyalgia and live their best life!

For more information, or to make an appointment, call us at 318-424-9240. 

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