Cognitive dysfunction (a.k.a fibro fog or brain fog) is a symptom many people with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) struggle with every day. It can make life difficult, but with effort you can find ways to make it less of a detriment.
The tips below are a combination of things that have worked for me and for other people who have left blog and Readers Respond comments on this site. They're not treatments – they're meant to help you deal better with your symptoms.
Each case of FMS and ME/CFS is different, so not all of these methods will work for everyone. It will likely take time and experimentation for you to find the work-arounds that are most successful for you.
When your brain isn't working well, being at work is tough. Some of us feel that we've lost the ability to do our jobs, and all too often our bosses agree! Here's a sample of what we can go through at work:
"I experience brain fog and it scares me when it comes. I have taken loads to the wrong place, as I am a truck driver, forget what conversations are about, and literally stutter or speak backwards if I can speak at all. I want to do my best at everything. The criticism hurts. However, I don't feel I should have to explain my reasons to my co-workers." —Guest Diane
"I am 24 and have had CFS for 3 years. I wait tables for a living and one of the most frequent problems I have with brain fog is forgetting what table I'm bringing an order to. I'll get the food ready, look at the table number on the ticket, walk over to my station and by that time have completely forgotten where I was going! So I have to go back and look at the ticket again." —Guest Christin
Every job is different, so we each need to find what works for our particular situation. However, these tips may help people with a wide variety of jobs:
- Ask for written instructions or write things down yourself
- Keep detailed to-do lists
- Repeat information to yourself over and over to help cement it in your memory
- Find an organizational system that helps you stay on top of things
One commenter has made several of these things work for her.
"I developed a system at work where I have a to do folder. Inside the front cover I put post its of Must Do items, and any To Dos that are on paper are slipped in it. It opens first thing in the morning, and saves my life at work. Also, I explained to my boss that I need things in writing whenever possible." —KellieSnider
Remember that, as someone with a chronic illness, you may be able to get reasonable accommodation at work. See: The ADA & Reasonable Accommodation for FMS & ME/CFS.
Out & About
For some of us, the most stressful and even frightening episodes of brain fog come when we're outside of our normal home or work environments:
"I was on my way to church, which is close to where I use to live. I couldn't remember where I was or where I was going. I called my brother-in-law, who came from another side of town to transport me home." —Guest Victoria
"My worst moments were when I was at the ATM with my husband and then returned to a car, unfortunately it was not the one my husband was in. This has happened twice and my husband was beginning to think the worst." —vegasgal7
"I … drove across town to our small town's old Wal-mart, went in, got confused as to where I was and why I was there. I wandered the aisles for quite some time crying and scared out of my mind and avoiding everyone. Got even more scared when someone was in the aisle. I didn't recognize anything or anyone (been in this small Wal-mart thousands of times over the last 30 years and know most of the workers). My cell phone rang, I answered and it was my husband wanting to know where I was (he is terminally ill and I always let him know where I am going and why). Crying like a baby I tell him I don't know, he talks to me for 20 minuntes or more until I understand to go to the doors and get outside, then he proceeds in helping me find my car and the way home. —Guest SHERRY
One thing Sherry did right was to tell someone where she was going before she left home. That's certainly a good safety net, if it's possible for you. Other things that can help include:
- Keeping a list of where you're going and why
- Keeping maps of places you regularly go in your car
- Remembering to try staying calm
Staying calm is especially important. If you get anxious and panicky, it will only exacerbate the situation. Try to find a quiet place, such as your car, a dressing room, or a bathroom stall where you can sit and clear your head.
Everyone forgets where they put their keys now and then, but for us it can be a constant struggle to remember where things are. Also, just as it is at work, remembering the things we have to do can be a problem.
Some things that can help include:
- Always putting things like your keys and cell phone in the same place
- Clipping your keys to your purse
- Keeping a notepad by the phone
- Establishing an organizational system that works for you
Another common theme of problems at home is how to complete a step-by-step process – even a familiar one.
"A few of many examples: Making coffee in 1 cup maker- turned machine on... forgot cup... put cup under machine after thought--- It usually doesn't sound that way (spilling), oh, cup upside down, turn over, caught 1 sip." —Guest Lost in my mind
"Well, today I was sewing a little sachet as a gift for a friend. I had just about finished it, so I started to tidy-up my craft table and look for the button I needed to sew onto the back of it. I searched and searched. … It was NOWHERE to be found, so I asked my daughter to help me look for it. We were now both on the hunt for the missing button. After we were at it for a while, I finally picked up the sachet to see if the button had been hiding underneath it, and there it was.....SEWN on ALREADY!!! UGH!" —homelearnin
Some of these things, we just have to live with. However, if you find there's a particular thing you struggle with, you might be able to improve that skill through repetition, like this commenter did:
"I used to play guitar. Just a beginner but I knew all the chords. When I got Fibro in 1997 I couldn't play anymore. Just recently I picked it up again. I could see the chord in my head but my fingers went everywhere but the right place. I just couldn't do it! I kept trying and now I play over an hour every day! Not perfect but it helps my brain." —Guest email@example.com
Learn More About Brain Fog
For information about the symptoms, causes and possible treatments for brain fog, see: