Do you have trouble thinking or communicating during a Migraine attack? It’s so common that patients often refer to it as “Migraine brain.” Multiple studies have failed to find any long-term cognitive decline because of Migraine, yet doubts among patients persist. People report problems with memory, focus, and communication, even between attacks. For those with chronic Migraine, the concerns are even greater. People reason that with few breaks between attacks, the cognitive effects become cumulative.
There are other possible explanations for cognitive problems between attacks:
- Fatigue or sleep deprivation
- Anxiety, depression, or ADHD
- Poor baseline executive functioning skills
Although there are medical treatments to address comorbid sleep disorders or mental illnesses that may impact cognition, some symptoms may persist. Also, some cognitive problems cannot be corrected with a prescription. Certain skills must be learned and practiced regularly.
Using your mental muscles
Think of this as exercise for your brain. The stronger you are before Migraine hits, the less impact an attack will have on your mental performance. As with physical exercise, it is important to assess your current abilities before embarking on a conditioning program. Once you know your strengths and identify opportunities for improvement, you can choose just the right exercises to accomplish your goals.
Executive functioning skills refer to how you manage daily activities. Your ability to stay sharp and organized depends on your ability to master these skills. In future articles, we’ll explore the impact each mental muscle has on your experience with Migraine. We’ll also discuss strategies to assess and improve executive functioning fitness.
Executive Functioning Skills
- Working memory: the ability to remember lists, dates, phone numbers, and tasks
- Emotional control: the ability to prevent emotions from interfering with a task until it is complete
- Response inhibition: the ability to think before you speak
- Sustained attention: the ability to focus on one thing at a time until it is completed
- Task initiation: the opposite of procrastination, particularly when the task is unpleasant or boring
- Planning & prioritization: the ability to identify and commit to priorities when there are many competing tasks
- Organization: the ability to keep things organized and neat
- Time management: the ability to accurately estimate the time it takes to complete a task to meet a deadline
- Goal-directed persistence: the ability to delay pleasure to achieve goals
- Metacognition: the ability to be objective about oneself accurately
- Flexibility: the ability to handle surprises and adjust ‘on the fly’
1 Dawson P, Guare R. Smart But Scattered: The revolutionary “executive skills” approach to helping kids reach their potential. New York: Guilford Press; 2009.
2 Koppen H, Palm-Meinders I, Kruit M, et al. (2011). The impact of a migraine attack and its after-effects on perceptual organization, attention, and working memory. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(14):1419-1427. doi:10.1177/0333102411417900.
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Headache disorders counselor and advocate Tammy Rome maintains a private practice specializing in treating clients with Migraine and other headache disorders. She also volunteers as vice chair of the American Headache and Migraine Association and as president of The Cluster Headache Support Group. You can read more of Tammy’s work on her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.