I never know when it will happen. Someone speaks to me and their words land in my ears as if they are in some foreign language or secret alien code. I stand there with a blank look as my brain races to decipher the meaning of their words.
If I’m lucky, it takes just a few seconds before the fog clears and I latch onto the right words to respond. On a bad day, my ability to effectively communicate scurries off to parts unknown, leaving me standing there wishing I could fade into bushes like Homer Simpson and disappear.
I may appear fine because there are no outward signs of my sarcoidosis, but there are unseen battles going on inside. One hurdle is cognitive impairment, which I wade through as a regular part of my life now.
When ‘senior moments’ become daily life
Many joke about what they call their “senior moments” — mental lapses they blame on getting older. My cognitive issues crept into my life in similar fashion, just mental blips here and there. I would forget words and have trouble focusing on tasks.
After a while, the episodes began to impact my life both at home and at work. I would “blank out” during interviews for news articles I was writing. Churning out articles was taking longer and longer. To meet my deadlines, I arrived early, stayed late, and took work home with me. When writing, I had problems organizing my thoughts. I also had to look up run-of-the-mill words in the dictionary because I couldn’t remember whether or not they were actual words.
Away from work, I began to notice that I couldn’t remember the plot lines of books I had read. When I watched a television show, I couldn’t recall any of it by the time its next episode aired the following week. I lost my job in 2011 while doctors were still trying to pinpoint the cause of my cognitive problems. The symptoms, which continued to escalate, remain as difficult to treat today as then. In addition to cognitive impairment from sarcoidosis, I have a history of several other health issues that could be the root cause, including Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.
Whatever the cause, I’ve just come to accept that brain fog, being tongue-tied, and having trouble remembering, focusing, and completing tasks are a part of my life.
Reading the latest book in a series means having to reread the books that preceded it. Watching the latest season of a television show means having to rewatch all of the prior seasons. And for my younger brother — who displayed an insane amount of patience — showing me how to use a blender to make smoothies during my stay in Florida meant doing it over and over and over again until it finally took hold in my brain.
Some days are easier than others. If you are battling cognitive issues, some of the adjustments I’ve made in my own life may help you, too.
One task at a time
If you think of something you need to do, either do it immediately or add it to a to-do list so you’ll remember later.
If you find yourself struggling to complete a task, move on and try later or save it for another day. I’ve given up trying to write on a set schedule. Instead, I write when my thoughts are clear enough to make progress. Sometimes that means just writing snippets each day, but by starting early I’m usually able to tackle it by week’s end.
Cognitive issues can lead to frustrating, funny, and embarrassing moments. Learn to take them in stride and remember that even people who do not have any diagnosed cognitive impairments have their moments, too. Instead of exiting like Homer Simpson when I’m struggling, I just blame a lack of coffee or sleep.
Read, do puzzles, learn a new hobby, skill, or a foreign language — anything that challenges your mind.
There will still be days when you can’t overcome the hurdles. Don’t sweat it. There’s always tomorrow.
Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.