You’re having a conversation, and suddenly you can't remember the right word -- or the wrong words come tumbling out of your mouth. You're cooking dinner, the timer's going off, but you can't remember why you set it.
When brain fog clouds your thinking, you may feel frustrated or embarrassed. You may also wonder what it means for your MS. But don’t worry. It happens. With your doctor’s help and some new techniques, you can learn ways to work around it.
Brain fog is a catchall term for all sorts of brain changes that can come with MS. Here are four things to know.
It's common. About half the people with MS have these issues at some point, says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. For most, the cloudy thinking is mild and manageable. Only 5% to 10% of people with MS have issues with their thinking that seriously affect their day-to-day life or career.
It can affect your short-term memory, attention, and concentration. It can muck up your ability to retain new information and plan.But it doesn't usually affect your intelligence, reading comprehension, or long-term memory.
It may get worse over time, but it may not. Once you have episodes of brain fog, they usually don't go away completely. They are more likely to progress slowly.
It can have many causes. Sometimes the fog is triggered by actual changes in the brain caused by MS. But it can also be brought on by other issues -- like depression, fatigue, and side effects from medication.
Tips for Managing Brain Fog
Pinpoint the cause. Talk to your doctor. You could have an underlying and treatable condition -- like depression -- that's to blame for your fuzzy thinking. Taking medications for bladder problems and having trouble sleeping can also leave you foggy, says Cindy Richman, senior director of patient and health care relations at the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
Get organized. If your memory is unreliable, stop relying on it. "You really have to replace your memory with organization," Kalb says. Get in the habit of writing everything down.
Have a family calendar. Hang it in the kitchen or another central place where you and the rest of your family will see it many times a day. "Everyone in the family from age 6 or 7 and up should be responsible for adding to it," Kalb says.
Use tech. Your smartphone can be an ally. Try out MS-specific apps as well as alarms to keep you on track. You can set reminders to go off right where you need them -- like the supermarket or drugstore.
Cut down on distractions. Brain fog can make it harder to filter out background noise and other things that can take your attention. So if you need to concentrate on a task or conversation, turn off the TV or go to a quiet space.