6 surprising ways brain fog can affect you during perimenopause and menopause

Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

30 October 2023

Brain fog in perimenopause and menopause

Brain fog is such a common symptom, and most people will experience it at some point along their journey. But it can be very disconcerting. It can be quite frightening, especially the first time it happens. But it's not necessarily just about having a foggy brain and it can affect us in all sorts of different and surprising ways.

What causes brain fog in perimenopause and menopause?

Very often, it's a combination and not just one thing that causes it. We know that falling oestrogen levels can affect brain function, so that's probably one of the primary causes. But it can also be physical stress. If you are physically tired, if you are fatigued, if you've had poor sleep, if you're dehydrated - and low blood sugar can do it too. Also, a poor diet. This is a really important one because remember, our nutritional needs go sky high as all the hormonal changes occur. And that means our body needs more of everything. And if we don't have the basics, then our brains are going to be affected as well.

One of the things that we are also bad for doing is multi-tasking. All the things that we have to think about on a daily basis, whilst all this hormonal shifting is going on, means that our thinking can get really muddled and cloudy. So multi-tasking is one of the things that I think should be banned in perimenopause and menopause!

Surprising ways brain fog can affect you

Here are a few things you can experience due to brain fog:

1. Talking gibberish / Struggling to form sentences

A lot of you have told me you struggle to form words, and one of the surprising things is that you feel you're talking gibberish. If you're talking to somebody, they might be looking at you in quite a strange way, because what you're thinking isn't coming out in what you're saying. So, you can say quite a few things that just don't sound quite right; or it may well be that you say a word and, again, your brain is thinking one thing and your mouth is actually saying something completely different.

2. Losing your train of thought

It could be that you're losing your train of thought. You start off fine and, in your mind, you know exactly what you're going to say, but then halfway through the sentence, you're like, "Oh, I don't know where I am."

Several of these situations were definitely mine. I'd be talking quite happily, and then it just felt like somebody had pulled the plug on my brain. There was nothing there. It was totally empty, and I would think, "What do you do?" If you're talking to people that you don't know, this can be extremely embarrassing, and it makes you feel really, really silly.

3. Feeling spaced out

It could be that you just feel spaced out or you're not quite there. And that's quite a weird one. And again, for those of you who have been following for a while, my classic situation was when I sort of came to one morning trying to fit a big bottle of fabric conditioner into the fridge. And my first thought wasn't "Why am I doing this?" My first thought was "Why doesn't it fit?" And then, you know, eventually, you come to, and it was like, "Oh no, this actually goes under the sink." So, there can be funny situations. But again, if you're at work, if you're in a serious situation, and you end up doing something like that, it can be really quite disconcerting and very unsettling.

4. Second-guessing yourself

It could be that you're always second-guessing yourself. You've switched the lights off. You've locked the front door. You're halfway down the path, and then you're like, "Did I switch the lights off?" or "Did I switch the cooker off? Have I locked the door?" So, you end up having to go through the process all over again, and it's a really annoying one because, apart from anything, you're wondering what's going on, why you keep thinking about this, but also that it's wasting your time if you have to keep running around doing everything two or three times.

5. Slow thinking

It might just be that you're thinking slowly. It could be that you were always snappy with answers and you got things really quickly, and now you find that you're taking two or three times as long. And sometimes, you have a word in your head, you know what the word is, and again, the minute you go to speak it, you've completely forgotten what it is. It's on the tip of your tongue but won't come out.

6. Forgetting simple words

It can also be that you're just forgetting simple words, not necessarily something technical or something not quite so common. But it can be really simple words, like "I'm going... Where am I going? Oh, I'm going home. That's right."

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What can help?

It can be all of these things at one time or another, and yes, it's one of these horrible situations that you just wonder what on earth is happening with your mind and your brain. So, the things to do here:

Stay hydrated: Dehydration will affect brain function really, really quickly, because when you're dehydrated there is a physical shrinking of your brain, which can affect your thinking. So, drink plenty of plain water on a daily basis.

Look at your diet: Are you getting enough of everything to keep your brain going? It is the most amazing machine if you think about it, and it needs lots of power. So again, eat little and often. If your blood sugar dips, that's going to affect your brain and your thinking as well.

So, make sure that you're eating little and often and good nutrients for the brain - things like magnesium, and calcium. Your fish oils are really important. B vitamins are really important, so just have a little look at your diet and make sure you're getting enough of everything. If you feel you're letting yourself down a little bit there, a really good women's multivitamin can be a really handy thing to add to your daily diet.

Sleep well: Make sure you get plenty of sleep. And I know this is a difficult one because poor sleep can be a big issue. But if you're tired, then you're not going to think straight the next day.

Learn to relax: Are you doing your 30-minute ‘me time’ a day, to allow everything to relax? When it happens, if you're in a situation where, like me, someone pulled the plug on your brain, all you need is to just do some slow, deep breathing, and that will get everything back. If you start to panic that you've lost your train of thought, that makes everything worse because you tighten up, your flight or fight kicks in, and then everything just goes out the window.

I used to find that sort of making a joke about it and just saying, "Oh, everything's gone blank, but service will be back in a minute or two," then I would relax, smile, and that just seemed to get my brain taking over again.

Helpful herbs and minerals: You can look at the herb Ginkgo biloba. The common name for this is the memory tree. This has been used for a very, very long time to help improve memory.

You can also look at combination supplements that have things like magnesium and zinc in them because magnesium and zinc both help with cognitive function. And if you're getting a little bit stressed about everything, then you can get combinations of magnesium, zinc, and calming herbs such as lemon balm. So, these are nice ones again, just to help you on a daily basis.

When do you need to go to the doctor about this?

It's a difficult one because so many of you tell me that you really do think that you are coming down with dementia and Alzheimer's and that can be really, really frightening when, in fact, all it is, is just this whole scenario going on.

But if you are really concerned about it, if it's happening more and more, if your loved ones are actually pointing things out to you, then please go and speak to your doctor.

The other thing you can do is make an appointment at what's called a memory clinic.

You can also do cognitive tests online, but I don't know how accurate they are, so just be a little bit wary unless you're taking a test that's on an approved website. Tip: For approved tests, look for ones that have an affiliation with a university, hospital, group of neuroscientists, or non-profit organisation.

So, I hope you found this one helpful. If any of you have had any experience of this, or what sort of symptoms did you experience when you got brain fog, what did you do to help yourself? Please share them. I know so many of you love hearing other stories, and I love reading everything as well.

So, until then, have an absolutely lovely week, and take care.

You may also find these topics helpful:

4 menopause brain worries & how to improve brain function

3 ways menopause brain fog can get worse

3 commonly asked menopause brain fog questions

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