Improving Cognitive Functioning

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • A very significant symptom of both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome is cognitive functioning problems (i.e., memory loss, difficulty with concentration).  It’s often referred to as “fibro-fog” or “brain-fog” because it feels like your mind is struggling to find its way through a fog.  You’re trying to carry on a conversation and you can’t find the word you need, or you forget what you were saying in mid-sentence.  You remember asking your husband a question yesterday, but you have no idea what his answer was.  It is frustrating to say the least.

    Is there anything we can do to improve our cognitive functioning?  Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of people who have shared a variety of ideas that have helped them.  No one claims to have eliminated the problem completely –– just that they have found ways to function a little better.  I’d like to share some of the most popular ideas with you, then ask you to share anything you’ve found that helps.
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    Ideas to Help Clear Some of the Fog Away:
    • Breathe – Remember to take slow, deep breaths regularly.  When we’re in pain, it’s common to hold our breath or to take very shallow breaths.  Part of the cognitive functioning problem is that we’re not getting enough oxygen to our brains.  So make a conscious effort to breathe more deeply.
    • Yoga and/or relaxation exercises.
    • Acupuncture – Acupuncture can stimulate energy flow to the parts of the brain that control cognitive functioning.
    • L-Carnitine* – Some people report that L-Carnitine, an amino acid derivitave, helps.  The highest concentrations of natural carnitine are found in red meat and dairy products.  L-Carnitine can also be purchased as a nutritional supplement. 
    • Ginkgo Biloba* – Emerging evidence on this nutritional supplement suggests that it may be effective in helping to increase blood flow to the brain.  Particularly promising are the early results of studies using ginkgo biloba to treat Alzheimer’s disease
    * Note:  Always check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, as they may have dangerous interactions with other medications you are taking.

    Ideas to “Exercise” Your Brain:
    • Word puzzles and number games (Crosswords, word searches, Sudoku, Scrabble, cryptograms, anagrams, etc.)
    • Jigsaw puzzles
    • Read – Keep a dictionary nearby and look up any words you don’t know. 

    Ideas to Help You Function in Spite of Brain Fog:
    • Write everything down.  Don’t trust yourself to remember anything.  Write it down – even if you’re sure it’s something so important, you couldn’t possibly forget.  I’ve learned from bitter experience that, on a bad day, I’m capable of forgetting just about anything.
    • Make lists (grocery lists, to-do lists, username and password lists, etc.).
    • If you need to remember to take something with you when you go out, stick a reminder post-it note at eye-level on the door you go out.
    • Each week, sort your medications into a pill case with sections for different times of day.  That way you’ll know if you’ve remembered to take a particular dose yet. 
    Now it’s your turn to leave a comment.  What tips can you share that have helped you deal with cognitive functioning problems?
Published On: April 12, 2007