by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Where are my glasses? It’s on the tip of my tongue! Did I turn off the iron? Am I losing my mind?
How often do thoughts and questions like these race through your mind? All of us experience forgetful, fuzzy moments, particularly during periods of high stress, and increasingly so as we grow older. I see many women at my practice who are alarmed at lapses of attention or memory, and they are frequently embarrassed to admit how bad it can get — particularly when the results compromise safety.
Many of these women are caring for aging parents with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, and they fear that the fuzziness they’re experiencing is just the tip of some terrible iceberg for them as well. Others have children with an ADHD diagnosis and wonder if they may have it, too. Most of them are concerned that their mental lapses will only get worse. I hear versions of If I’m this forgetful now, what’s it going to be like in ten years? all the time. In my experience, women (and men!) fear the mental symptoms of aging as much or more than the physiological changes.
But for the large majority of women under 70, there’s simply no reason to. Episodes of difficulty with word retrieval, an inability to focus, or feeling overwhelmed by a rush of thoughts and ideas are common signals that your body is overburdened and not getting the support it needs — and this includes how well you are coping with stress. Fuzzy thinking is one of several symptoms that may develop during perimenopause and menopause due to changing hormones, but problems with memory and attention can also be related to other physiological imbalances that respond well to simple changes in nutrition and lifestyle. So don’t let fear or shame of your wandering mind keep you from taking stock of what’s really going on — and then doing something about it.
Let’s discuss how.
When is fuzzy thinking serious?
Less often than you might think. Current medical thinking brackets lapses in cognitive function within two extremes. On the minor side, you have a temporary state of mental deterioration that is a direct result of a traceable behavioral pattern or situation — sleep deprivation, low blood sugar, illness, falling in love, childbirth, poor eating habits, and acute stress are a few examples. In this scenario, clarity returns when the “crisis” is over. On the more severe side, you have mental lapses that do not get better with time and self-care and that may indicate onset of an underlying serious mental or physical condition, including but not limited to clinical depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, ADHD (also known as ADD), dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, or brain trauma or disease. Obviously the more serious neuropsychiatric conditions are topics of scientific research and get more press, so we hear more about this end of the spectrum.