Fight RA Brain Fog With These Tips

Fuzzy memory is such a big part of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It accompanies pain and flares, and can also a be side effect of medications. How do you run your life when you can barely remember your own name? Here are some strategies you can adopt to help you cope with brain fog.

Creative and analytical thoughts.

Store important information in a “memory palace”

Josh Foer is the winner of the 2006 Memory Championship. In his book, “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” Foer says he creates a “memory palace” in his mind, where he can visually store important information. To make it effective, involve as many senses as possible. Create sticky memories that are sexy, lewd, outrageous, unusual, and animated. For example, at the foot of your driveway, Hugh Jackman is wearing a bright red Speedo swimsuit, while dancing with a giant stalk of celery. Your dog is using a banana to paint your front door with olive oil. When you open your closet door, your hands are sticky with honey. Inside, you discover a purple chicken reading the newspaper, while laying stinky eggs.

Reminder ribbon tied around finger.

Create a meaningful mnemonic

Romantic Dragons Eat Vegetables And Prefer Onions is a delightful acrostic that helps me remember to remember. I learned this in Robert Madigan’s “How Memory Works — and How to Make It Work for You.” Dr. Madigan explains how to use this mnemonic to strengthen your memory by using the first letter of each word to trigger a memory strategy. “R” is for “retention intention”. Declare what it is you want to remember.

Man walking his dog through town.

Get some exercise

Movement can help you improve your memory. One study found that short bouts of interval training improved memory performance in its research subjects. Exercise also produced more “brain juice” — a memory protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor, which supports the growth and function of brain cells.

When I have a presentation to do, I remember better when I rehearse my talk on my dog walks. The movement and fresh air help consolidate what I want to say.

Senior hands over vintage photographs.


Next time you look at your souvenirs (French for “remember”), spend some time reminiscing about the trips you took. Look at your photos and think about the people, places and things you've captured. What were you feeling at the time? Did anything special happen? Dig deep and remember and share.

Be vigilant about the type of memories you recall. Dwelling on unpleasant events can trigger the stress response.

It's important to add new experiences, too. The act of sharing those memories will help you remember them at a later date.

Group of senior friends socializing and laughing.

Get out of your cocoon

While you don't have to be a social butterfly, and admittedly, it can be difficult when you're in the midst of an RA flare, it's important to stay connected with your friends and loved ones.

In “Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory,” Andrew Budson, M.D., suggests that “low social participation, less frequent social contact, and loneliness have all been associated with the onset of dementia.” The quality of your social interactions matter. Dr. Budson goes on to warn that: “negative social interactions have been associated with cognitive decline.” Hang around with people you like and get involved in activities that give your life meaning and memory.

Woman writing a to-do list.


Lists can jog your memory, keep you on track and provide a source of satisfaction when you cross items off it. My friend she showed me a to-do list that I left in a book I had lent her. We had a good laugh over the last item on my list: “get up!” I doubt that it was referring to getting up out of bed, but who knows!

Woman lying in the grass next to her cell phone.

Prevent digital amnesia

Your digital devices can make life easier, but there's a downside. When your apps become the repository for everything you want to remember, you become less-practiced at remembering things. Exercise judgment so that you don't develop digital amnesia.

Stressed woman.

Transform stress

Stress affects your memory in a number of different ways. When you focus on what is stressing you, it distracts you from paying attention to what really matters. When you are under chronic stress, your body is flooded with stress hormones, which impact your memory. Cortisol, the stress hormone, impairs your ability to encode and recall memories. It also contributes to inflammation.

Couple grocery shopping together.

Food can be a memory friend or foe

What and how you eat can either improve or impair your memory. Do your research, then make your grocery list. After you've organized your shopping list, put the memory techniques to work and see if you can leave the list at home. How did you do?

Show your memory some love and it will reward you for years to come.

Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R.
Meet Our Writer
Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R.

Marianna Paulson is known as AuntieStress. On her Auntie Stress website, you’ll find links to her two award-winning blogs, Auntie Stress Café and A Rheumful of Tips. When she is not helping clients (and herself) address stress, she keeps active by swimming, walking, and taking frequent dance breaks. She takes steps in a number of different directions in order to work on being a “Superager.” She may have RA, but it doesn’t have her! “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.” - Dalai Lama XIV