12 Tips to Manage Brain Fog
Last updated: March 2021
The other day I was filling out an online survey about life with multiple myeloma. One question asked me to list my 5 most significant challenges since my diagnosis. I was sharing my list with a friend who had stopped by. "Fatigue, financial strain, lack of support, emotional stress, ..." What was the fifth one, again? I had already forgotten. I quickly grabbed the paper I had been writing on, but apparently, I had forgotten to write it down there too.
Brain fog is more than just memory loss
I knew better than to get too upset about it. Brain fog has become pretty much a constant presence in my life since my initial treatment for multiple myeloma 3 years ago. At times I struggle to remember even the simplest things. Did I feed the dog? When did I last take my pills? Where on earth did I put that check? I don’t even try to remember people’s names anymore.
It is not just memory loss either. At times I have trouble concentrating and following directions. During conversations, I can easily find myself at a loss for the right word. And I usually have to read and reread things several times - and still get confused.
Brain fog can be dangerous
Just last week, I jumped in the shower after setting a pot of water on the stove to boil. I began to smell something odd. Then my dog started to bark. Not only had I turned on the wrong burner, but I had left a bag of avocados on the stove. By the time I came racing out of the shower, the bag was on fire, and smoke had filled the kitchen.
I realize this can happen to anyone, but it happens more often to people experiencing brain fog. Unfortunately, my doctors have not offered any solutions to my inability to remember and think. I have had to navigate this part of my diagnosis mostly on my own. And while I have not been able to make brain fog go away, I have found many things that make living with it more manageable.
12 things I do to manage brain fog
- Use sticky notes! I keep a pile of them in each room of the house and write things down as soon I think of them. Then I stick them up in places that I am sure to see them. I only throw a sticky note away when I have dealt with whatever was written on it.
- Have ONE place to keep important paperwork. Mine is in a corner of my dining room. I absolutely cannot have multiple places for important things, but I do sometimes scan important papers with a scanner app on my phone and keep copies on my laptop (backed up and in ONE place, of course).
- Use a Reminders app. I use the Reminders app on my phone to keep track of grocery lists, to-do lists, and wish lists. I also set sound notifications from my app so I don’t miss appointments and deadlines.
- Use autopay whenever possible. Using autopay for bills has reduced my paper clutter and eliminated my overdue bill fees. I now have every monthly bill on an auto-payment plan.
- Use a calendar to keep track of upcoming events and maintenance tasks. I put everything from my medical appointments to furnace filter changes on my online calendar. Plus, the calendar sends notifications right to my cell phone. I haven't missed an appointment or filter change yet!
- Set alarms. I set daily alarms on my phone for anything and everything I need to do that day, like take my medications. I also need to use a pill minder for this since in between the alarm going off and walking to the cupboard, I’ve gotten distracted and forgotten to take them.
- Play brain games. I use Lumosity and play various memory and concentration games daily. It feels good to do something fun and proactive to lessen the brain fog.
- Learn something new. Learning new skills stimulates neurons in the brain which helps it form new neural pathways. And it's fun! I am currently taking drawing and acrylic painting classes online.
- Sleep. My brain (and the rest of my body) always works better after a restful, restorative snooze.
- Relax and breathe. I know from personal experience that brain fog doesn’t get any better by stressing about it. Deep breathing exercises and meditation have become a regular part of my daily routine.
- Exercise. When our bodies work and feel better, so do our minds. Even just a walk with my dog around the block does wonders for easing the fog.
- Laugh and have fun! If nothing else, fun and laughter are huge antidotes to stress. And some of the things brain fog causes can be quite funny.
I finally remembered!
Speaking of laughter, as my friend was getting up to leave, it came to me. BRAIN FOG! That was number 5 on my list of myeloma challenges. It took me a second to realize the irony of it all. Then we both had the biggest belly laugh we'd had in a long time - a laugh that seemed incredibly well-deserved!
What blood cancer were you diagnosed with?