You may be wondering, why your brain fog experience is different from that of others. Why does one person have problems finding words while another cannot remember why they entered a room? And another finds having a conversation to be exhausting?
I am often on Reddit forums, talking about brain function and helping people figure out what might be going on with their brains. The questions in the TBI, dementia, and stroke forums reflect an understanding that their brain function is directly involved. Sometimes the diagnosis they are asking about would appear to not necessarily be neurological. People are asking about brain fog symptoms for all kinds of things:
- autoimmune disorders (Hashimoto’s, MS, Lupus, Crohn’s)
- gut health issues (IBS, Leaky Gut, perceived food sensitivities as with gluten and dairy)
- Medication side-effects (yes, these can trigger and upkeep neurodegenerative processes), experiences with drugs and alcohol
- mood disorders (depression, anxiety)
- hormonal fluctuations (PMDD, menopause, perimenopause, PCOS)
- Post-Viral or Active viral (Post-COVID, Epstein-Barr, CMV)
And this is not surprising. Because anytime you have a disease process or an imbalance that is causing an inflammatory response, we know that neurodegenerative processes in the brain can be triggered.
Other times the people in the forums are well aware there are neurodegenerative processes going on, but they just do not know what to do about it or how to help it, and they are not getting sufficient help from their doctor. They get told it’s just normal aging and they go off and try to come to terms with the idea their brain fog symptoms are just a part of life and will get progressively worse. And that might be the case when no effective intervention is offered by their doctor. But the level of brain fog that happens that causes a person to seek out help in the first place is quite unlikely to be normal levels of cognitive symptoms with aging. People who are older can have thriving brains and can continue to learn, remember, focus and live a high quality of life. Especially when we use interventions to slow, stop or even reverse neurodegenerative processes.
The flavor of nonstop questions I see come up is basically one type with hundreds of variations:
- Is this a brain fog symptom?
- Do other people have this symptom?
- Is this thinking, perceiving, and remembering symptom a part of this or that diagnosis?
What becomes strikingly apparent in following these forums, on Reddit and on other social media platforms, is the wide diversity of experiences in brain fog symptoms. Brain fog is an umbrella term we use when we are trying to say our brain is not working well and that our ability to function has decreased to noticeable levels. And every person who is suffering from recurrent or chronic brain fog knows that these symptoms become intolerable and steal a lot of the enjoyment out of life by interfering with our ability to be present in our lives and relationships.
If you have occasional brain fog, you may not be having a neurodegenerative process. You may have intermittent brain inflammation. But be aware that repeated neuroinflammation can set the stage for a neurodegenerative process if you can’t get it under control. If your brain fog is recurrent or chronic, it is really time to listen to what your brain is trying to tell you.
And this article is part of facilitating your improved ability to listen to your symptoms and validate your experience, even when your doctor does not. In doing this you can begin to take the necessary steps for yourself (or a loved one) to begin to make powerful dietary and lifestyle choices to improve these symptoms.
The TYPE of brain fog symptoms you are having can help you identify what part of your brain is being impaired by neurodegenerative processes.
Let’s begin to learn what struggling brain structures may likely be involved in your own personal brain fog symptoms. As I discuss neurodegenerative processes I need you to understand that this is not an old person’s problem. I need you to understand that even a teenager can have a neurodegenerative process triggered. That it can begin to occur in your 20s and 30s.
Neurodegenerative processes happen all across the age ranges for a variety of reasons such as diet, nutritional insufficiencies, exposure to toxins, and illnesses. Don’t let the associations you have made with the term “neurodegenerative” keep you from understanding that this is an underlying factor in the creation and continuation of your brain fog symptoms.
In the front of your brain, you have a big section called the frontal lobe. It’s involved in something called executive functioning and is involved with the ability to plan, organize, and follow-through. It is also very critical in working memory. Working memory allows you to hear information, hold it long enough to analyze it, and the ability to recall it a few minutes later.
When your frontal lobe is not working well you can’t think well. You have trouble initiating tasks or finishing anything. You will find that you are losing your desire to want to do new things and you have a real loss of motivation. This does not mean you are lazy. It’s a brain fog symptom that you beat yourself up about. With frontal lobe dysfunction, you are going to see your performance go down in your profession, regardless of what it is. You may assume you are depressed or that you have ADHD. And you might. But knowing your diagnosis or resonating with a diagnosis is not the same as treating the underlying causes of a diagnosis. What you really need to do is figure out how to fix your brain.
Another area that is part of the frontal lobe is the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) and it is involved in the planning and carrying out of complex movements in your arms and legs. When this area of the brain begins to suffer from neurodegeneration people have a tendency to have tightness and heaviness in one or more limbs, especially after cognitive fatigue. This is not a common brain fog symptom that people complain about but I include it here you may recognize it in yourself along with other symptoms of frontal lobe dysfunction. It may be a clue that this part of your frontal lobe is beginning to suffer from neurodegeneration.
Another area of the frontal lobe is Broca’s area and it involves speech. It’s a motor speech area. It controls your muscular ability with your lips, tongue, and voice box. The motor parts of speaking, not the cognitive parts. You might start to mispronounce words and your speech fluency may go down, resulting in some slurring of words.
You may also notice that when you speak, you are not doing so anymore with proper grammar and syntax. Meaning to say things plural but it comes out singular or perhaps reversing the word order in a sentence, may actually be a very early form of agrammatism.
Are you having more and more difficulty reading long passages? Even though you used to be an avid reader? This can be because this part of the brain is not working as well as it should (it may also show that your Weirneke’s area). If one of your brain fog symptoms is that you find it hard to speak or that speaking feels really tiring to you, it could be that neurodegenerative processes are occurring in this part of the brain.
Your parietal lobe is farther back from the frontal lobe and is considered a different structure. One important area of the parietal lobe is the somatosensory cortex. This brain area is responsible for having sensations and perceiving sensations. It helps you perceive with your arms and legs. Although people don’t often see this as a brain fog symptom, it’s still an area that is at risk of neurodegenerative processes.
You might just experience this as clumsiness. As knocking things over often or easily, and slamming into your bed or running into doors. Maybe you have had a streak of getting injured more often. It’s just a sensation of not quite knowing that your body was there or less awareness of where your limb was in relation to something else. You may have this symptom on your own or you may notice that you have it along with brain fog symptoms. I include it here to help you validate yourself and your experiences.
Your parietal lobe has a section called the inferior parietal lobule. You may have brain fog in which you notice you are not remembering new faces very well, and this is different than your abilities in the past. Or you get clues that you are not reading emotion in others as well as you used to.
If you have brain fog, you may not only find conversing very fatiguing, but you may also be less adept at mirroring those you interact with and not be able to participate in interactions of emotional intimacy in important friendships and relationships. As a therapist, I know what a big deal this is for people and how it can affect oneself and one’s loved ones.
Perhaps more commonly parietal lobe dysfunction looks like a confusion between right and left, difficulty with basic math calculation, or finding words as you speak or recalling numbers (e.g., phone number, address). If these are your brain fog symptoms it is a clue that the inferior parietal lobule section of your brain may be struggling to function.
I see posts with people complaining about these particular brain fog symptoms all the time. And I just really want to tell them all that these are not normal, normal aging, or something they should let their doctor dismiss. I want to tell them that there are good solid, evidence-based, and powerful interventions available to treat this. And sometimes I do. But often people will argue with me and tell me that these symptoms are just unavoidable parts of their illnesses or that they have already been told that it’s just normal aging. And when that happens I just go back to writing this blog and working with the people in my Brain Fog Recovery Program, where I see these symptoms improve and even reverse every single day. And that makes me feel better.
The auditory cortex is in the temporal lobe and it helps you perceive sounds. When this area is not working well you get brain fog symptoms that look like having difficulty with sounds in environments with a lot of background noise. You really can’t understand what you are assaying and you will try to rely on lip-reading. As this area degenerates further you will start to get rhythms out of your head. Getting a song stuck in your head once in a while is normal. But if it’s often or somewhat chronic (weekly or daily), it can be a sign of possible neurodegenerative processes in this part of the brain.
You may also develop tinnitus. Usually, tinnitus is due to the damage of auditory nerves from accident, injury, or more often in our society, high blood sugars. There is a very high correlation between tinnitus and insulin resistance. But tinnitus can also be a sign of neurodegeneration occurring in the temporal lobe.
Deep within the temporal lobe is the medial temporal lobe and it is a major area of degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. When the medial temporal lobe is going through a degenerative process you are going to get brain fog symptoms that look like problems with memory recall of slightly longer-term events. What did you eat for lunch two days ago? Can you access that memory? That’s the medial temporal lobe. Can’t remember an event two weeks ago, or a memory you had five years ago that was truly an event? That’s a problem in this area.
Has your sense of direction been getting confused? Your ability to map where you have been or how to get somewhere? Beginning to rely on a navigation system in your car to go places and make it back home? That indicates problems with your right medial temporal lobe.
Has your ability to play trivia games gone down? And recall facts you once had access to in conversation? Have problems remembering (recall) numbers that have been always known in the past (e.g., the PIN number you have used for many months or years, your address at the one house you grew up in)? That is potentially neurodegenerative processes in the left medial temporal lobe.
People describe brain fog symptoms such as continually walking into a room and forgetting what you needed to do there or you can’t remember events you signed up for or you have 1000 sticky notes trying to keep track of things it is a sign of neurodegenerative processes. Whether this is early signs of Mild Cognitive Decline (MCI) and early dementia or just a neurodegenerative process going on you haven’t gotten a handle on, IT DOESN’T MATTER. Pay attention to it and prioritize the work you need to do to fix your brain.
This lobe is in the back of the brain. It helps you perceive colors. I don’t hear brain fog symptoms around problems perceiving colors but I include it here in case this is part of your experience. There are many people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that have symptoms of occipital lobe degeneration. TBI can set up a cascade of neurodegeneration that needs to be quieted and quelled long after the initial brain injury.
Early signs of degeneration in this lobe are likely not caught very quickly. If it is a brain fog symptom you may find you have trouble tracking moving objects, have odd little subtle visual hallucinations, and/or problems recognizing written words. These may be some of the more perplexing brain fog symptoms I see people ask about in the forums, but they are often come up much less often.
This area of the brain is important in balance, coordinated movement, and motor learning. Are you having more trouble with balancing? If you close your eyes and stand with your feet together, do you sway and wabble a bit? Whether it is at your yoga class trying to do the tree pose or finding you want to hold onto the stair rail more often, feeling more unsteady is an indicator that this part of the brain is not as healthy as it could be and that a neurodegenerative process may be going on. Did you have a lot of trouble learning simple Tik Tok dance or a truly impossible time following along at Zumba (and you used to be better at that kind of thing)? Didn’t do too well at that free ballroom dancing lesson you signed up for?
It could be that your ability to coordinate and remember movements is impaired. You may conceptualize this as a brain fog symptom, that you just “can’t learn new things” lately and lump it all together, but it signifies a distinct area of dysfunction that deserves your acknowledgment and attention.
Will brain games help?
Yes and no. The idea that you can rehabilitate these areas of the brain by doing the very thing you are struggling with is legit. Yes, absolutely, exercise those areas of the brain where you are experiencing neurodegeneration. But as someone who had very severe brain fog and neurodegenerative processes and got their brain back, I don’t think that should be everyone’s go-to fix-it strategy.
When my cognitive symptoms were severe, I attempted to do brain games in the form of apps and activities. And I was terrible at them. I made no progress and it was scary and very demoralizing. It made me want to give up on trying to get better. Sometimes I would find them to be cognitively exhausting, and my symptoms would be worse the next day.
After a certain point of recurrent and chronic brain fog, it does not make sense to focus on brain games and exercises to strengthen the brain without fixing underlying issues of brain hypometabolism, neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and neurotransmitter imbalances. The ketogenic diet is an important piece in that recovery.
Having someone with really bad brain fog do brain games is the equivalent of telling someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to go to a Crossfit class. Yeah, it is great if they managed to get dressed and make it to the parking lot and inside, but it’s not an appropriate intervention for where they are at. Theoretically, it’s going to make them stronger and increase their energy in the long run, but it doesn’t make sense for where they are at and how they are functioning. It is safe to say it may even worsen underlying issues causing their fatigue and symptoms. There are better and more important things to work on before we sign them up for Crossfit.
And that’s the kind of work I do with people every day.
But I have had a brain scan and they told me everything was normal!
It is really important that you understand that problems with neurodegeneration do not show up on brain scans until the damage reaches a certain level of severity. If you are relying on a scan to tell you if your brain is healthy or not this is a false premise. Unchecked neurodegeneration will EVENTUALLY shrink brain structures enough that someone will point out there might be a pathology going on, but by then you have done a lot of damage that could be avoided and have lived in an impaired state unnecessarily for far too long.
Some scans are better at picking up some factors in neurodegeneration, like brain hypometabolism, but those scans are NOT going to be ordered on you until your symptoms are quite severe. They are expensive. And no insurance company in the US is going to authorize that in an exploratory way for you to figure out if you need to change diet and lifestyle factors.
These symptoms do not get better on their own if you continue to do what you are currently doing. I would say that you know your brain, and you know if it isn’t working well anymore. And you need to listen to that. And you need to stop telling yourself stories that come from the medical establishment’s complete inability to conceptualize, treat and manage chronic, early neurodegenerative processes. That story you tell yourself that you are just getting old? And that a drop in brain function that you experience as impairing your life is a normal part of that? That’s a story. That’s not real. And it doesn’t have to be real for you.
That is why I created an online version of what I do with people every day in my individual practice to help slow, stop and even reverse these symptoms. Contact me to learn more about the Brain Fog Recovery Program.
If you have a friend or loved one with brain fog, please discuss this article with them. They very likely do not have the brain energy to read and comprehend this big blog post. Sometimes they need it lovingly broken down so they can feel validated and seen. They have been getting distressing symptoms, for maybe a long time, and feeling broken and abandoned by the medical system. Helping them advocate for themselves as best they can or assisting them in advocating for effective treatments is an important part of the person you care about learning all the ways they can feel better.
You may also find the following past blog posts helpful in your journey to recover your health and cognitive function.
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