It can feel like a mist shrouding your consciousness, leaving you not quite all there. People who complain of "brain fog"
have frequent bouts of feeling scattered, forgetful, unfocused, and confused when faced with simple decisions. Productivity
dips, often followed by declines in self-esteem and mood. Many chalk it up to getting older, or worry that it signals the
onset of dementia.
But research shows that neither aging nor senility is typically to blame for clouded thinking. One recent study of 100 older
adults, for example, found that forgetfulness, attention lapses, and other complaints about mental sharpness were more closely
related to mood and general mental health than to cognitive status, age, or risk of Alzheimer's disease.
So if it's not age or impending dementia, what is turning on the fog machine? It could stem from an underlying medical condition
or a drug's side effects, but "most often it's a disturbance in sleep or mood, or simply the harried, stressful nature of
modern life," says Jeanne Leventhal Alexander, M.D., director of the Psychiatry Women's Health Program at Kaiser Permanente
in Northern California. The good news is that those problems can usually be corrected or at least improved, she adds.
If you've been feeling off your game, here are six steps you can take to restore mental clarity.
This article first appeared in the March 2008 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.
|Drugs that can cloud thinking
|The list below contains common drugs that can cause confusion, especially in people who are older, weigh less than average,
or have kidney or liver problems. Many of the drugs are available under different brand names or as generics.
|Antiarrhythmics: Digoxin (Lanoxin), disopyramide (Norpace)
||Incontinence medications: Oxybutynin (Ditropan), solifenacin (VESIcare), tolterodine (Detrol)
|Antibiotics and antivirals: Acyclovir (Zovirax), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), ganciclovir (Cytovene), metronidazole (Flagyl)
||Migraine medications: Naratriptan (Amerge), rizatriptan (Maxalt)
|Antihistamines: Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy)
||Muscle relaxants: Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), orphenadrine (Antiflex)
|Antihypertensives: Clonidine (Catapres) and beta blockers, such as atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor), and propranolol (Inderal)
||Painkillers: Codeine (generic); meperidine (Demerol), pentazocine (Talwin), propoxyphene (Darvon)
|Corticosteroids: Methylprednisolone (Medrol, Meprolone), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone)
||Parkinson’s medications: Amantadine (Symmetrel), levodopa (Sinemet), selegiline (Eldepryl)
|Cough and congestion medications: Dextromethorphan (Robitussin Cough Gels), pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
||Sleep medications: Eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien CR)
|Gastrointestinal medications: Cimetidine (Tagamet), diphenoxylate (combined with atropine in Lofene, Lomotil), dicyclomine (Bentyl), glycopyrrolate (Robinul),
hyoscyamine (Anaspaz, Cystospaz), scopolamine (Scopace)
||Tricyclic antidepressants: Amitriptyline (Elavil), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor)