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Is It Brain Fog or Early Dementia?

When life is moving at a million miles a minute, your mental performance suffers — there’s only so much information and stimuli your brain can take in. Maybe you forget where you put your car keys, or you look everywhere for your glasses, only to discover they were on your head all along. The common culprit for this type of forgetfulness is brain fog, a term used to describe mental fatigue and sluggish thinking. 

But when is it simply brain fog, or something more serious, like the early signs of dementia? 

Read on to learn the difference between brain fog and dementia and what to do if you suspect you may have early dementia. 

Brain Fog or Early Dementia: What’s the Difference?

While brain fog and early dementia share some similar characteristics, there are clear differences between the two.

Brain Fog

Brain fog is the unofficial term for a general feeling of mental malaise. Your brain may feel switched off, making it hard to focus and easy to forget things. Symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of energy 
  • Mental fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Struggling to finish simple tasks 
  • Memory loss 

It isn’t always easy to get to the root of brain fog, but possible causes include:

  • Hormonal changes: Studies shows fluctuations in female sex hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, can lead to cloudy thinking and mental exhaustion.[1]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278262613001668?via%3Dihub[2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6843314/  
  • Food allergies: Those with certain food sensitivities may experience brain fog. Common allergens include gluten, dairy, soy, wheat, peanuts, and eggs.[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7454984/   
  • Stress: When you’re under constant stress, your body pumps out cortisol. This stress hormone can damage the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in decision-making and attention.[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907136/ 
  • Poor sleep: You know the feeling after a night of rough sleep — you sleepwalk through the day, barely able to focus and get anything done. That’s because sleep allows your body to recharge and press the reset button. It also sweeps away toxins that have built up during the day.[5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651462/  

Learn more about what causes brain fog, and what to do about it. 

Dementia

Dementia isn’t a disease, but rather the general term used to describe impaired cognitive function that makes it difficult to perform daily tasks. 

Dementia is commonly thought of as a disease affecting older people. While it’s true that the majority of people living with dementia are over 65, the illness can develop earlier and affect people in their 40s and 50s. 

Memory loss is the most well-known symptom of dementia. Other symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in personality or behavior, such as anger, paranoia and depression
  • Getting lost in a familiar place
  • Forgetting the names of friends and loved ones
  • Trouble completing familiar tasks
  • Impaired judgment

Dementia isn’t considered a normal part of aging. While most elderly people do sometimes forget things or struggle to recall someone’s name, dementia is serious and is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain. 

The most common causes of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Vascular dementia 
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia 

There are numerous other disorders and conditions linked to dementia, including nutritional deficiencies, alcoholism, and traumatic brain injury. 

Is it Brain Fog or Early Dementia? 

Although brain fog and early dementia share a lot of the same symptoms, there are ways to tell them apart: Those with early dementia may forget the names of loved ones, get lost in a familiar neighborhood, and experience changes in their personality or behavior – all symptoms that aren’t associated with brain fog. 

What To Do if You Suspect You Have Early Dementia 

If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from dementia, early detection is key. The benefits of getting diagnosed early for dementia include:

  1. You can start to get treated right away: Taking medication and making certain lifestyle changes early may prevent or slow down the development of dementia.[6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6935598/   
  2. You have time to plan for the future: An early diagnosis allows you to put a treatment plan together, get your finances in order, and communicate your wishes to your family members before you become too cognitively impaired to do so. 
  3. You have a better grasp of the situation: Prior to a diagnosis, you may feel confused or stressed about your symptoms. There is comfort in gaining a better understanding about your situation.
  4. You may not have dementia after all: Symptoms of dementia are similar to numerous other treatable illnesses and conditions, including nutritional deficiencies and medication side effects.[7] https://www.alzint.org/u/WorldAlzheimerReport2011.pdf 

If you suspect your forgetfulness is more than just brain fog, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. There is no one diagnostic test for dementia. Rather, your physician and other specialists will take a look at your medical history and perform cognitive and neurological tests to make a diagnosis.[8]https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0315/p398.html 

What To Do About Brain Fog 

If you’re pretty sure you’re dealing with brain fog and not early dementia, here’s what to do to clear away those sticky mental cobwebs:

  1. Try nootropics: Also known as “smart drugs,” nootropics are a category of supplements that supercharge your brain. Some of the best nootropics to sharpen your focus and increase mental energy are zynamite, theacrine, and l-theanine. Look for a supplement that contains a blend of nootropics to maximize effects. Go to the Thesis quiz to find your personalized nootropics formula.
  2. Check your medicine cabinet: Some medications are known to impact cognitive function and cause brain fog. Look out for benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax, opioid analgesics (a type of pain medication) and sleep aids that contain diphenhydramine, an antihistamine.[9]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18379759/[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25621434/ 
  3. 3. Focus on good fats: Your brain is made up of 60% fat. In fact, it’s the fattiest organ in the body, so it figures that feeding it lots of good fats will keep it strong and resilient. [11]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20329590/

Saturated fat is especially brain-friendly. Your brain is covered in myelin – a fatty layer of insulation that helps brain cells communicate with each other. Myelin contains a lot of saturated fat, so load up on grass-fed beef, pastured butter, and eggs to keep it in working order. 

For more information, see the full Neuropedia guide on what to do about brain fog.

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