Fibromyalgia and impaired memory. If you or a loved one has fibromyalgia, then you might be familiar with something this: forgetting what the inside of your house looks like, struggling to find common words, or even forgetting what it was you were thinking about in the first place. Maybe you had to withdraw from school because you couldn’t remember what you read. Don’t panic! This isn’t necessarily indicative of early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia. Rather, if you’re dealing with fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from impaired memory, concentration, and overall cognitive function. In fact, according to the National Fibromyalgia Research Association, 46% of fibro patients suffer from both fibromyalgia and impaired memory.
Some fibromyalgia patients have found that their cognitive function seems to get more impaired as time goes on. Apparently, some people don’t often have that symptom during the early years of fibro. Rather, it kind of comes with time. And not in terms of impairment that comes with aging. This is different. The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association explains, “…we have found that FM patients perform more poorly than age- and education-matched controls on tests of several different types of cognitive function.” Ok, so there is something distinctly abnormal, a serious problem happening with the cognition of fibro patients, right? Well then, what exactly is happening and what can be done about it?
Theories about fibromyalgia and impaired memory
One study from Korea, published in 2012, concluded “that the working memory deficit found in FM patients may be attributable to differences in neural activation of the frontoparietal memory network and may result from both pain itself and depression and anxiety associated with pain.” In other words, fibromyalgia includes pain, depression, and anxiety that individually and collectively cause the brain to behave abnormally. Indeed, the study went on to add that “memory and concentration problems in FM patients were related to impairments in their ability to organize and plan ahead, express themselves, respond quickly to questions, and to drive.”
Sometimes we refer to these cognitive problems in fibromyalgia patients as “brain fog.” And if you deal with this, then you know chronic fatigue and disturbances in your sleep seem to make it worse. In fact, some physicians tackle the impaired memory and concentration issue in fibro patients by addressing sleep itself.
Another study showed that fibromyalgia patients are not receiving enough oxygen to different parts of their brain. The Arthritis Foundation speculates that a possible reason for this could be that a fibro patient’s central nervous system is off kilter which leads to changes in the brain’s blood vessels. Thus, impaired cognitive function.
Ways to deal with fibromyalgia and impaired memory
In essence, no one is certain what exactly causes the coexistence of fibromyalgia and impaired memory within patients. Indeed, there are still more theories. Of course, understanding the cause contributes largely to understanding how to treat it. But since we can’t nail that down specifically, we can at least look at treatments that have been successful for others. One method is to keep your brain active with word puzzles, reading, brain teasers, or games that stimulate concentration. However, a more common method is quite the opposite. It involves using meditation and relaxation to improve memory and concentration. Think about it like this: when you are in a stressful situation, it is often difficult to think clearly anyway, whether you have fibromyalgia or not. But when you calm down, rest, and clear your mind, suddenly all the things you were trying to think of before rush into your mind and your thinking is clear and rather succinct. So ultimately, you are aiming to minimize anxiety and clear your mind.
You can also look at the above mentioned studies and approaches and tackle it from there. For example, if pain indeed profoundly impacts the brain’s function, then finding ways to minimize pain could be a big step in clear thinking and concentration. And we all know how sleeplessness effects our pain levels and inability to think clearly. And it’s usually the pain that’s keeping us up at night anyway, right? So talking to your doctor about ways to minimize pain in order to sleep better can also be an effective approach. Although, that is so much easier said than done.
Ultimately, it will probably take some trial and error, not to mention several discussions with your healthcare practitioner. It’s a journey and we are all in it together. If you have found a particular method or technique that has helped your ability to think past the brain fog of fibromyalgia and impaired memory, to concentrate better and to remember more often, please share it. Everyone is different and your tip might be just the thing that helps even one person!