Clearing the Fog: Coping with the Cognitive Dysfunction of Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

From The Arthritis Foundation's Good Living with Fibromyalgia Workbook.*

Many people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia experience episodes of unclear thinking or cognitive dysfunction.
They become forgetful, lose their train of thought, forget words or mix them up. This is what is popularly called “brain fog” or “fibro fog.  Following are some basic memory and communication tips that can help you deal with episodes of minor cognitive dysfunction.

Here are some common-sense pointers that can help you clear the fog:

1. Repeat yourself. Repeat things to yourself over and over again. Repetition will keep thoughts fresh in your mind.

2. Write it down. Whether you write in a calendar, in a notebook or on sticky notes, if you're afraid you won't remember something, putting pen to paper can help.

3. Pick your best time. If there is something you need to do that requires concentration and memory, such as balancing your checkbook or following a recipe, pick your best time to do it. Many people with fibromyalgia say they perform best early in the day.

4. Get treated. Depression, pain and sleep deprivation can influence your ability to concentrate and remember. Getting your medical problems treated may indirectly help your memory.

5. Engage yourself. Reading a book, seeing a play, or working a complex crossword or jigsaw puzzle can stimulate your brain and your memory.

6. Stay active. Physical activity, in moderation, can increase your energy and help lift your brain fog. Speak to your doctor or physical therapist about an exercise program that is right for you.

7. Explain yourself. Explain your memory difficulties to family members and close friends. Memory problems often result from stress. Getting a little understanding from the ones you love may help.

8. Keep it quiet. A radio blasting from the next room, a TV competing for your attention, or background conversation can distract your attention from the task at hand. If possible, move to a quiet place and minimize distractions when you are trying to remember.

9. Go slowly. Sometimes memory problems can result from trying to do too much in too short a period of time. Break up tasks, and don't take on more than you can handle at once. Stress and fatigue will only make the situation worse.

* Source: This excerpt is reproduced with kind permission of The Arthritis Association (, publisher of The Good Living with Fibromyalgia Workbook, © 2003 The Arthritis Foundation.

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