by Jennifer Upton
Caution Heavy Fog
Have you ever walked into a room only to forget why you’re there?
It’s been a long day.
You’ve worked a full day on the computer from home, and finished your laundry on your lunch break.
It’s the end of the day and you’re composing a shopping list when the smoke alarm squawks for a fresh set of batteries.
You walk to the kitchen.
It’s not far, but on the way, you pass the bathroom and remember you forgot to add hand soap to the shopping list.
You enter the kitchen and stop square in the middle.
The fridge hums to your left.
You eye the teakettle on the counter to the right.
Mmmm… A nice cup of Jasmine would do nicely right about now.
Wait…Why did you come here in the first place?
The hungry smoke alarm reminds you.
Oh, yeah! The batteries.
You run back into the office to check what batteries you’ll need.
Back in the kitchen again, you open the junk drawer.
They’ll need to go on the list.
Where’s the shopping list? Right there, in your pocket.
Have you got a pen to write with? Nope.
All of this transpires before you even begin to search for your keys.
FOG. BRAIN FOG.
If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you are not alone.
Although not a medical term, “brain fog” became common nomenclature as a symptom of Covid-19.
Millions of women in the stages of perimenopause and menopause know it all too well.
Changes in hormonal levels during perimenopause and menopause can impair memory and concentration.
BRAIN FOG SYMPTOMS
The symptoms of brain fog may include:
- poor concentration
- feeling confused
- thinking more slowly than usual
- fuzzy thoughts
- lost words
- mental fatigue
Other symptoms, such as insomnia and anxiety exacerbate brain fog.
After all, no one concentrates well when tired or worried.
The worst part of it all is the feeling that you’re not on the top of your game.
The multi-tasker that could juggle five jobs simultaneously with ease appears to have departed, leaving the sufferer to question whether she’s losing her mind completely.
CAUSES OF BRAIN FOG
Science says you’re not losing your mind. But, your mind is changing.
The results of a study published in June 2021 in The International Journal for Equity in Health, lead researcher Dr. Lisa Mosconi PhD, Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at Weill Cornell Medicine said, “…menopause reshapes the landscape of the female brain and hints, at least, that this reshaping includes compensatory adaptations that maintain brain function despite the menopause-related drop in estrogen levels.”
The results of the study, titled Menopause impacts human brain structure, connectivity, energy metabolism, and amyloid-beta deposition used positron emission tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to scan the brains of 161 women ages 40 to 65, found that although changes in the brain occurred during the transition from pre to post-menopause, the changes stabilized and a “new normal” emerged once the subjects had completed the transition.
In other words, the brain is adaptable. But, how do we cope in the meantime?
LIVING WITH BRAIN FOG
Coping mechanisms include:
- Keep lists on your phone and/or on paper to help you organize your days
- Use project management tools online such as Kanban or Asana to help keep track of each stage of a task
- Set alarms on your smart phone or tablet to help you remember appointments and tasks with deadlines
- Complete one task at a time. It might not seem as efficient, but it will help you save time wondering where you put those keys
- Get an e-tag or tile to help track the items you misplace most frequently i.e. phones and keys
- Have a designated place for your things (sunglasses, keys, bags, etc.)
- Use mnemonic devices (rhymes or short songs) to help you remember everything from long lists to calling your mother
- Use the phrase “Don’t let me forget” with people you trust both at work and home. Yes, it’s your responsibility, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it
It’s important to no feel ashamed of using any brain fog coping mechanisms.
Think of them as you would the fog lights on a car or a lighthouse on a rocky shore.
There are many ways we can care for brains and bodies during what is a perfectly natural life event.
The number one treatment is Hormone Replacement Therapy.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology (Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2001 Dec; 52(6): 647–653), women using transdermal estrogen experienced a 73% reduction in dementia and a 55% reduction in multiple sclerosis compared to women not taking HRT, but even those using the older oral combination HRT had a 42% lower risk of neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
According to nhs.uk, there are lifestyle changes that also might help:
- get plenty of rest, including keeping to regular sleep routines
- eat a healthy diet
- stay hydrated
- get enough Vitamin D and B-12
- have calcium-rich food like milk, yogurt and kale to keep bones healthy
- exercise regularly, try including weight-bearing activities where your feet and legs support your weight like walking, running or dancing
- do relaxing things like yoga, tai chi or meditation
- talk to other people going through the same thing, like family, friends or colleagues
- talk to a doctor before taking herbal supplements, over-the-counter vitamins or complementary medicines
The fog might seem impenetrable now. Fortunately, all weather systems pass through.
In her study, Dr. Mosconi concludes, “Even though many women experience troublesome symptoms, from hot flashes to forgetfulness, menopause is a normal physiological event.”
Adds Dr. Mosconi, “Our study suggests that the brain has the ability to find a new ‘normal’ after menopause, at least in most women. We hope our findings will help overcome the stigma around menopause and encourage all women to take care of their brains during this transition.”
The information and other content provided in this blog, website or in any linked materials are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
Sources: Mosconi, L., Berti, V., Dyke, J. et al. Menopause impacts human brain structure, connectivity, energy metabolism, and amyloid-beta deposition. Sci Rep 11, 10867 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-90084-y
Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2001 Dec; 52(6): 647–653.