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What Life is Like with MS Brain Fog

By Matt Cavallo

The most frustrating symptoms for someone living with MS are the symptoms that others can’t see. For me, the one that frustrates me the most hands down is brain fog. The longer I live with MS, the worse it seems to get. Brain fog, or cog fog, is tough to explain to people who have never experienced it. Here are some examples of how brain fog affects me.

One of the biggest issues I face on a daily basis is keeping track of commonly used items such as my phone, wallet, and keys. To combat this, I try to always put them in a designated spot. If I am feeling foggy and put them somewhere else, there is no telling where or when they will show up.  When I lose track of something, I end up tearing up the house trying to locate the object and feel a tremendous sense of fear and anxiety because I can’t stop and calmly recall where I last had the object. This morning, for example, I opened my kitchen cabinet where I keep my allergy medicine and sitting right next to my nasal spray were my car keys. Logically, I know that I am probably the one who put them there but I have no idea of when or why. This is life in the MS fog.

I also experience time lapses because of MS fog. I often find myself standing in a room, having no idea why I walked in there or how long I have been standing there. Maybe it was one minute, maybe it was 10. It is incredibly frustrating because I know I walked in there with a purpose, but somehow time and space evaporated in the fog. Most times, I end up leaving the room without accomplishing what I set out to do and nervous that I forgot something important. The reverse of this situation is also scary. Sometimes I start a task and walk away forgetting what I was doing. For example, I once put some water on the stove top to boil and then walked out of my house and took a drive somewhere forgetting all about it. When I came home, my house was smoky, and the pot had started to melt on the stove. Luckily, no one was hurt but that situation could have easily turned into a house fire had I arrived home any later.  

Conversations are another pain point with brain fog. Sometimes, I tune out midsentence or forget the name of the person who I am talking to. I can also completely forget the topic of the conversation. For people who don’t know me well, I tend to get awkward stares and looks of confusion because they know something is off but can’t put a finger on it.  My friends and family who talk to me often are understanding when it happens but I know it must be frustrating for them, too.  

Where brain fog affects me the most is at work. At work, where I am supposed to process information and make quick decisions, I find myself not as sharp as I once was. It is often difficult to recall important information and problem solve even familiar situations. My boss has told me I need to “tune-in,” but she doesn’t know I live with this brain fog. I try to stay tuned-in, but my mind just doesn’t respond like it used to.

These are just some examples of the everyday struggles of living with MS brain fog. The good news is that if you are feeling like this, you are not alone. According to Healthline.com, it’s estimated that more than half of people living with MS will develop cognitive issues such as difficulty understanding conversations, thinking critically, or recalling memories.

While brain fog is frustrating, there are strategies to manage it.

Make lists and take notes. Keeping a list or taking notes can help you easily recall what you need to do and when you need to do it. You should make lists and take notes at home and at work so you can keep track of all that you need to do.

Sleep well. I find that my sleep is a commodity. When I am fully rested, my brain functions better. When I am having problems with sleep, I notice that my brain fog is increased.

Reduce stress. Stress is the enemy and the more stressed I am, the foggier my brain becomes. 

Diet and exercise. Healthy fats rich in omega 3s are good for brain health and working out has been proven to have a positive effect on mood and cognition.

Challenge yourself. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other mind games can keep your mind sharp.

Don’t be hard on yourself. This is the one I struggle with the most. I work with my mind and when I feel it slipping away, I am really hard on myself. Being hard on yourself just makes you more frustrated. Try to learn from the situation and see if maybe applying one of these strategies can help you lift the MS brain fog.