I am pretty sure I have always been a bit foggy. My teachers told me at 9 that I was sometimes great and sometimes a big muddle. They were right. I didn’t ascribe it to any special condition – it was just me!
But maybe it wasn’t just me. Recently, a wind has been blowing which blew some surprising goods, COVID-19, of course. Studies of people with long COVID-19 have found that about half of those may have brain fog. What is good is that brain fog has been noted and discussed for a long time, in relation to a wide range of conditions, such as chronic fatigue, allergies, menopause, ADHD, kidney failure as well as anxiety and depression. COVID-19 has helped to make clearer that persistent difficulties with memory and concentration, a lack of clarity, may have a specific cause.
So far, however, it has not been possible to pin down just what is causing the foggy symptoms. There is considerable variation in the symptoms and their severity, but one study suggests on average a cognitive deficit of about half a standard deviation, with difficulties tending to be around executive functioning (planning, organising, concentrating, etc).
The neurophysiology underlying the problems has not been clearly identified either, with suggestions of inflammation of some areas or reduced ability of some brain areas to obtain nutrients. Nevertheless, COVID-19 has spurred research in this area. However, it also seems likely that the COVID-19 cases will improve – the fog will not be permanent. Sleep, diet and exercise are very likely to help reduce the problems. Occupational therapy may also help to relearn new ways to do some things.
Sabrina Brennan has written “Beating Brain Fog” about the broader condition, and if like me, you do sometimes forget everyday routines and facts, it might be worth checking it out. It may play an important but neglected role in understanding other conditions, too.
Sukel, K. (2022). Lifting the fog. New Scientist, 254(3390), 38–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0262-4079(22)01024-7
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist