15 Ways to Overcome Brain Fog and Cognitive Issues in Parkinson’s

Brain fog is a frustrating symptom to be living with, especially if you are living with Parkinson's Disease. Here are some techniques you can use to overcome it.

by Nathasha Lee

Brain fog can be a frustrating condition for someone with Parkinson’s disease. The uncontrollable lack of focus associated with brain fog can bring about a variety of other problems such as sleep problems, and even changes in one’s memory. How does brain fog arise from Parkinson’s disease? What can we do to prevent brain fog? How can we reduce the challenges brain fog brings to our lives or the lives of our loved ones? We will answer these questions and more in this article.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a disease that mainly causes one’s memory and ability to plan and solve problems to become worse over time. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common degenerative brain condition in Singapore after Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms of Parkison’s disease include tremors, changes in speech or writing and problems with posture and balance. According to recent estimates, between 6,000 to 8,000 people aged 50 and older have Parkinson’s disease in Singapore. Nonetheless, younger people can also get Parkinson’s disease. Around 5 to 10 per cent of people with Parkinson’s are aged between 21 to 40 years.

Brain Fog and Parkinson’s Disease

Brain fog is a condition that can abruptly affect the ability of people with Parkinson’s disease to focus and think clearly. With brain fog you might feel as if you are not yourself and might have difficulty remembering things or communicating what you want to say.

A strong contributing factor to brain fog is fatigue. Fatigue refers to a general feeling of mental tiredness without having done any physical or mentally tiring activities. Fatigue affects around half of all people with Parkinson’s disease, and it can be made worse by factors like medication and lack of sleep. When one is mentally tired, they are more likely to experience brain fog and find it difficult to think clearly.

Brain fog might disrupt one’s sleep cycles, causing them to have trouble falling asleep at night or getting enough sleep.

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15 Ways to Overcome Brain Fog and Cognitive Issues

Even if brain fog occurs frequently for you or your loved one, it doesn’t mean that the condition is uncontrollable. Here are 15 steps that you can take today to reduce the chances of experiencing brain fog and improve your ability to function mentally.

1. Avoid Napping in the Day

When you are tired during the day, it can be tempting to want to take a long nap. However, napping frequently during the day might prevent you from getting adequate rest at night. When you nap during the day you will tend to feel more awake at night, making it difficult for you to sleep when you should. Napping during the day also upsets your body clock and makes it more likely that you will be restless at night. It is better to sleep earlier at night than to take several naps during the day so that you do not disrupt your sleep cycle.

2. Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t be frustrated at yourself if you find yourself unable to remember things. Sometimes when we forget something or find ourselves unable to think clearly, we might make mistakes or feel embarrassed at ourselves. It is perfectly normal to slip up sometimes. You don’t have to force yourself to be at top condition every day, especially when you have a condition that is beyond your control. Rather than being upset at yourself, you can take control of your emotions by staying positive.

3. Consult Your Therapist Regularly

People with Parkinson’s disease would benefit from having regular appointments with a therapist. Your therapist can help you to monitor your mental abilities and suggest steps that would be the most beneficial for your current condition and needs. 

4. Develop a Routine

When brain fog happens, trying to remember or carry things out becomes more frustrating when you do not have a routine. Developing a set routine will make it easier for you to know what you were supposed to be doing at moments when you forget. For example, you can plan your daily errands, like walking your dog or making a trip to buy groceries, to happen at the same time every day or every week. It might take weeks or months of consistently doing something to make it into a habit. Once you’ve decided on a routine make sure to stick to it day by day and eventually it will become second nature!

5. Eat a Balanced Diet

Eating a lot of foods that are high in sugar, salt and oil can make our bodies and minds feel tired easily. Sugary foods tend to cause blood sugar to rise and fall quickly, leading to “crashes” of energy that make you feel lethargic. When you are lethargic, brain fog becomes more common. Having a balanced diet consisting of key nutrient groups like carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and vitamins will help your body stay healthy and benefit your mind as a result. Eat a diet that is high in green leafy vegetables, complex carbohydrates like brown rice or wholemeal bread, lean meat or fish and fruits.  

6. Exercise Your Mind

Not only do we have to make sure our bodies are fit and healthy, but that our minds are too. Exercising our mind can help to prevent brain fog and keep ourselves mentally alert in the future. For maximum benefit, you should do mind exercises that work out both the left (which controls language use) and right (which controls the processing of visual shapes) hemispheres of your brain. Exercises for the left hemisphere include changing words or finding words from scrambled letters. Exercises for the right brain include counting toothpicks, trying to draw a continuous line through a group of points, and doing jigsaw puzzles.  

7. Get Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can contribute to brain fog as much as taking naps during the day. A healthy adult aged 60 and above needs around 7 hours of sleep a night. The quality of sleep, however, matters as much as its quantity. If you don’t have regular periods of deep sleep, you will feel less rested. To help yourself go to sleep earlier and get higher-quality rest, avoid looking at computer or handphone screens at least half an hour before going to bed. The blue light given off by these screens interfere with our brain’s ability to produce melatonin, a natural chemical which helps us fall asleep. Try to also dim the lights in your room just before going to bed to help your body relax and prepare for bed.

8. Get a Therapy Animal

Stress is one of the main triggers of brain fog. Having a therapy animal can help to relieve stress and provide a constant source of comfort and companionship. Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and even birds can all be therapy animals. Therapy animals have successfully been used to help people improve cognitive abilities like reading and help with problems like anger management issues.

9. Get Regular Physical Exercise

Exercise improves our blood circulation and increases our heart rate, improving blood flow throughout the body. This also causes more blood to reach our brains, preventing brain fog as our brains receive the oxygen they need. Regular exercise has also been shown to have effects in improving one’s mood. Exercise is not just beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease but can help to prevent the negative effects of other conditions. Even if you cannot do strenuous exercise, you can start by adding a gentle walk or swim into your daily routine. If you are not used to exercising regularly, having just 10-minute sessions daily can make an improvement to your physical and mental health. 

10. Get Sunlight

Exposing yourself to some sunlight can help to reset the body’s circadian rhythms and let people with Parkinson’s disease sleep better at night. Our bodies become more awake in response to sunlight. Sunlight also helps our bodies to produce our own vitamin D which is good for healthier bones and teeth. You can try to exercise or take a walk outdoors on an afternoon that is sunny but not too hot.  

11. Inform Loved Ones of Your Needs and Plans

Having your mental abilities become worse because of Parkinson’s disease can make you helpless and embarrassed. Nonetheless, you should not keep your condition to yourself and try to pretend that everything is okay to friends and family. Letting your loved ones know about the difficulties caused by your condition can open ways for better communication and let them know how they can help and support you. Your loved ones would also be more patient with you when they are aware that your forgetfulness is caused by your condition and not because of your own carelessness. Letting your loved ones know of your plans can also enable them to help you in case you forget what you were supposed to be doing.

12. Manage Your Stress Levels

Having some degree of stress in our lives is unavoidable. To reduce the impact that stress can have on our mental states, try to find methods to reduce your stress levels. Regular meditation or yoga are both common methods of reducing stress. Taking regular breaks from your work is also crucial to maintaining peace of mind and helping it to function better.

13. Plan Ahead

Planning can help to account for disruptions that might happen when you get episodes of brain fog. Just taking down notes in an organiser or on your handphone’s notes application can be helpful to planning your activities ahead of time.

14. Organise Your Home and Workspace

If we cannot remember where to find something, it will become a lot easier if we place our belongings in fixed areas. Organising your home and workspace so that your important belongings are always in the same place can do a lot to reduce headaches and prevent brain fog from affecting your daily routine. You can take steps like clearing up your room or table to be free of clutter, place printed materials in folders, or labelling drawers so that you know what each drawer contains.  

15. Write Things Down

If you really cannot remember what you were supposed to be doing, writing things down can help. You can jot down notes inside a paper organiser or use an online calendar on your phone. When in doubt, just flip open the journal or app that you took your notes in to know exactly what you were supposed to be doing. Writing things down by hand has also been shown to improve one’s ability to recall the information that was written.  

Coping with Parkinson’s Disease

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  2. CDC – How Much Sleep Do I Need? – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. (n.d.). Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
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  6. Parkinson’s Community Help. (2020, October 21). “Your Head in the Clouds: Brain Fog with Parkinson’s Disease” – Webinar Notes Stanford PD Community Blog. Stanford School of Medicine. https://parkinsonsblog.stanford.edu/2020/10/your-head-in-the-clouds-brain-fog-with-parkinsons-disease-webinar-notes/
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About the Writer
Nathasha Lee
Nathasha Lee is a final-year Anthropology major at Yale-NUS College. She hopes her writing can make a positive difference in the lives of readers, no matter how small. In her spare time, she enjoys making art, listening to podcasts, and drinking lots of tea.
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