Just the other day, I ran into an old friend at the park and as we went our separate ways he said, “See you later, Mike.” I looked directly at my friend of more than 25 years and suddenly realised I had forgotten his name.
Right then, at that very moment, I felt as if my mind just stopped working. My brain felt like it was smothered in a thick cloud of fog. I knew this guy. I just couldn’t recall his name. I felt embarrassed, ashamed and a bit scared.
Having worked in the medical profession for many years, I understand that the aging brain is prone to this type of behaviour. In the same way our skin, hair and body experience the visible effects of aging, so too does our brain.
Brain fog is often temporary and treatable. For both men and women, brain fog will manifest in slightly different ways, although both are likely to share the symptoms of forgetfulness or verbal memory loss.
For women, brain fog is intensified during menopause and in the years following it due to the severity of hormonal changes and fluctuations. For women, brain fog may be related to the decline in oestrogen levels after menopause.
With lowered levels of oestrogen, many women also feel the more “typical” symptoms of menopause, hot flashes, anxiety and tiredness. As hormone levels fluctuate, many women also experience sleep problems, and we know now that sleep deprivation can negatively impact brain function adding to the severity and frequency of “brain fog.”
A recent study by the University of Rochester showed a connection between women who suffered anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties and brain fog.
We know that at some stage in the aging process both men and women will experience some degree of brain fog that is related to the ageing process, rather than dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
And yes, we do know enough about ageing and the brain to be able to suggest what you can do to avoid brain fog impacting the quality of your life. Try these simple tips to maintain a healthy brain:
You may feel great and that’s good news! Even so, it’s advised that you have regular health checks to keep track of our blood pressure and general health.
We all know the benefits of exercise, and as we get older, it’s even more important for both our physical strength (bones) and our mental health. Commit to doing some form of exercise whether it’s a walk around the block, a game of bowls or an online Yoga session!
Make sure you are well hydrated before you start any exercise routine and take some time to rest and recover your muscles afterwards.
Good sleep is the cornerstone for a healthy body and mind. When we don’t get enough sleep or when we have disturbed sleep our body cannot rest and recover. This means our ability to function and our brain’s ability to perform is severely compromised.
Try starting a bedtime ritual for a soothing sleep – set aside 20 minutes of “quiet” time before bed to still your mind, you might read for a while and enjoy a relaxing herbal tea.
Never under-estimate the impact a healthy diet can have on your mind and body. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes balanced with healthy fish and nuts all contribute to keeping your body in its best form.
Eat fresh where possible and avoid processed, fast foods. As we age, our body may not be able to absorb all the nutrients we require, talk to your health care advisor about supplements that will keep you in optimal health.
Finally, remember that bouts of brain fog in both women and men are totally normal and reversable phenomena associated with aging, and of course, if you do experience any sudden or long-lasting changes in your memory behaviour talk to your health professional.
In the meantime, take your daily walk and if you do run into an old friend whose name befuddles you; don’t worry, just refer to them as your “mate” it seems to work for everyone here in Australia!
Do you remember the last time you experienced brain fog? Was the situation funny or troubling? How have you dealt with it since?