The COVID pandemic has introduced many scientific and medical terms into our everyday language. Many of us are now fluent in conversations about viral strains, PCR tests and mortality rates. “Brain fog” has joined these ranks to describe a now-familiar symptom of COVID and long COVID.
But what exactly is brain fog, and is it limited to COVID?
It is what it sounds like
Brain fog is not a medical diagnosis, but rather the description patients tend to use for their symptoms. Brain fog is what doctors refer to as “cognitive dysfunction”. This describes problems with closely linked tasks such as concentration, information processing, memory, thinking and reasoning, and making sense of language.
Brain fog is exactly what it sounds like: a feeling something like being shrouded by a thick fog, not quite able to grasp ideas, feeling confused or disoriented, and having trouble concentrating or recalling memories.
Sufferers describe experiences with brain fog as lapses in memory and concentration, with some saying they “put food on the gas stove and walked away for over an hour, only noticing when they were burning”.
Other people say they “forget how to do normal routines like running a meeting at work”.
Brain fog can make even simple tasks like grocery shopping very difficult: navigating the car park, remembering a list of items to buy, switching attention between products and prices, and reading ingredients can be confusing, overwhelming and exhausting.
Brain fog can be unpleasant in the short term, but over time can make it difficult to work and maintain social activities. Brain fog can also take a toll on relationships, and change the way we see ourselves personally and professionally.
One recent study asked people with long COVID about their experiences with brain fog. They reported feeling guilt and shame, especially about how brain fog had affected their ability to return to work and their relationships.
While the symptoms of brain fog can be similar to those experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions associated with older age, brain fog can affect people of any age. Brain fog doesn’t usually worsen over time, and may not last forever.