A friend recently emailed me, “I just can't seem to stay on-target, and my mind just jumps from subject to subject! It's driving me nuts!!” I asked her to give me some examples. “I respond to requests for proposals for a living,” she explained. “It involves dividing responsibilities, and keeping track of responses, fielding questions, and conducting many conference calls. In the middle of these calls, I find my mind drifting to unimportant things, and have had to ask people to repeat questions.”
I’ve experienced the same thing as my friend, with whom I went to high school. I’ve been in meetings when all of a sudden my mind drifts off to think about another issue; when my mind returns to the meeting at hand, I’m left trying to figure out how to catch up on the conversation without letting others know. And it turns out that my friend and I are not alone.
“Many menopausal women have insisted for a long time that something big is going on in the brain at midlife; they feel their ability to manage multiple tasks, remember names and faces, and retain information slipping,” wrote Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in “The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause.” “Whatever this phenomenon might be, one thing it most certainly is not is the first sign of Alzheimer’s.”
The authors believe that the experience of “brain fog” is probably true since so many women describe it, but actual memory problems are exaggerated. They pointed to the Seattle Midlife Women’s Study which found that most middle-age women demonstrated little decline or abnormality, even though they reported having more memory problems than they did 10-20 years earlier. The study did find that women who are in the perimenopause stage had more memory problems which ended when they entered menopause. Secondly, stress, depression, and illness have a greater impact on the brain than the hormonal changes experienced during the perimenopause stage. And going through menopause can be very stressful. “You may never have so many things going on in your life that need your management and attention as you do in the years between thirty-five and sixty-five,” Seaman and Eldridge said. “Stress can have a negative effect on many aspects of our health, but it is particularly hard on our brain.” Lack of sleep also can take a toll.
The authors described three types of memory issues – transience, absentmindedness, and blocking – that are more often seen in middle-aged and older people. Here’s a description as well as tips to try:
- Transience is when you can’t learn and remember new things. Try using mindfulness and mneumonics to maintain this type of memory
- Absentmindness is when information is properly stored, but couldn’t be retrieved at crucial moments. This often happens when you aren’t focusing your attention on the issue. The best solution is to develop concrete reminders that are descriptive and accessible, such as a to-do list or a note with enough information to remember what you need to do.
- Blocking is when you can’t remember an important idea or words, such as names. The authors suggest that you turn the symbolic words into something more conceptual such as “Dorian Martin” and “Health Central blogger” and “tennis player”. The last two concepts can help trigger your memory’s recall of the name.
It’s great to know that we’re not alone in experiencing brain fog. Now we need to decide to slow down and utilize different techniques that will help our brains function optimally.
Published On: April 26, 2010