The Brain Fog Caused By Menopause

Increased forgetfulness or fogginess in the brain has to be one of the most debilitating symptoms of menopause, and it comes at a time when dementia is already a terrifying prospect, particularly for those who have lost parents or older relatives to the degenerative condition.

Two or three years ago, when we were deep in the trenches of Kurt’s troubles, I rushed out of the house one day to get into my car and for some reason my attention was drawn to the little storage area in the door where I there was a lighter and some cigarettes. My immediate reaction was one of anger, because I thought that (on top of everything else) Kurt had not only used my car but smoked in it as well, and it was only after I had snapped my seat belt into its lock and was searching for the ignition that I noticed that the car’s dashboard was a different colour to mine.

I was in someone else’s car!

In a menopausal brain fog, many of us will have walked up to a car the same colour and shape to our own in the street, tried to open the door, and then made a hasty, red-faced retreat. But it’s another level of humiliation to have to get out of a car, praying that no one witnessed your (potential) theft of the vehicle.

Fortunately, I haven’t committed anything quite as embarrassing as that incident of late – and I still blame my poor brain function on the stress I was going through at the time – but pouring juice in my coffee, wearing clothes inside out, forgetting names, losing my keys and walking into rooms with no idea why I’d done so, have become regular occurrences.

Issues with memory loss, lapses and “brain freeze” associated with menopause are often attributed to hormonal imbalance, but did you know that those symptoms can equally be caused by poor sleep, certain medications, stress, and too much alcohol? Hmmm. So there were likely several very good reasons I got into the wrong car that day.

Forgetfulness is a topic that comes up regularly when the girls and I get together to discuss which of us has the most embarrassing dementia story that week. So when one of them told me that she uses the Lumosity App to keep her brain healthy, I decided to give it a go.

The aim of the app is to “challenge your memory and attention” and to improve your mental reflexes in terms of problem-solving and processing in a fun, want-to-cry kind of way, and it offers three free games per day to keep you on your toes.

Since I started using it, I’ve discovered that I am crap at games that involve cars, circuits, and especially parking – but funnily enough, I have demonstrated quite a talent for the coffee-making game and remembering ocean creatures. I can already see the benefit of the tool. I’m not grown up or boring enough to want to tackle crosswords or Sudoku yet, but I can now see how our brains need a workout in much the same way that the rest of our bodies do, particularly when our muscle starts to waste away in menopause.

The only problem with the app is remembering to do it.

Anxiety, Stupidity, And Why The Next Time I Leave The House Will Be In A Casket

After what feels like an interminable period of drought, Sydney has been hampered by the kind of rains we usually only see on Christmas Day, at birthday parties or weddings over the past few days. Unlike my British alter-ego, I have come to enjoy the rain here – a few precious days when I can’t fry eggs on my cheeks and sleep peacefully at night. However, as in most over-populated cities of the world, rain and public transport become an interesting partnership.

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I thought I’d come to terms with the fact that it’s better that I don’t leave the house, so call it whimsy or plain stupidity, it was nevertheless an unusual decision to visit the city for an exhibition yesterday, on one of the aforementioned rainy days.

 

Okay – so it might have had something to do with work.

 

Fortunately, my confidence was buoyed by a brand new bus system, recently installed from Forgottensville to the Big Smoke. Thanks to another government incentive to blow our taxes on worthless pieces of shit ensure that us country folk get to work on time, we now have canary-yellow, double-decker buses (that scream “poor”) and drive at breakneck speed down our bus lanes – until, inevitably,  something gets in their way. So, in contrast to the old horse and cart days, the journey now takes around an hour and nine minutes, rather than the previous hour and ten.

 

I’m certain that when that government official in transport drew up the plan and came up with the innovative idea of limited stops, the fact that there is only one main arterial road into the city from our neck of the beach must have slipped his mind – although the USB points are a nice touch. And as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, avoiding knee contact with the hot guy next to me, and waving along the selfish pricks in cars ahead of us in the bus lane, (unnecessarily polluting the atmosphere with their 4x4s), only a game of Watching Weird People On Buses kept me sane.

 

To cut a very long (and I fear, tedious) story short, no one informed me that the bells on these new-wave buses with limited stops, actually serve a purpose. I had made the foolish assumption that the bus would stop at each limited stop, and as we sailed past my stop, (and the agreed location for the pick up for the next stage of my mammoth trek), I might have panicked a little – a panic that I was conscious of not allowing my fellow passengers to witness. I mean, how could I publicly demonstrate the rarity with which I use this outdated and highly inefficient mode of transport? That would be owning up to my own private guilt for billowing gallons of the cheapest fuel into our atmosphere in my own 4×4; worse, it would highlight my stupidity.

 

For it has come to my attention, that since I turned fifty, I am indeed becoming more stupid, in rather pitiful, doolally, blonde, kind of way.

 

To make matters worse, in my rush to get off the bus first, I had scrambled out of my seat embarrassingly prematurely so as not to miss my stop, which meant that EVERYONE knew that I was stupid. And I couldn’t shout across the fifty or so miserable Monday morning faces in front of me to accuse the driver  – I say, young man, but I think you missed my stop – because bus drivers, like medical receptionists, are an inherently grumpy breed, borne of coping with fare dodgers, drunks, and hypochondriacs every day – although I hasten to add that I have never dodged a fare.

 

Dumped at the next stop in the rain with the self-acceptance that I am not safe to leave the house again – or indeed be left on my own at any time again – and with no clue where I was, I drowned my sorrow in a surprisingly tasty Maccas coffee. And as I sat there, berating myself for my limited understanding of both Google maps and Uber, (whilst privately congratulating myself that I have the apps on the home page (?) of my phone), I reached a life-changing decision. The next time I leave the house will be in a casket.

I Like To Think An Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks…

However… every trip out of the home these days seems to involve some shaming new public lesson in technology that highlights my mom-ness and has zero human interaction or support. I pity the really old people who used to see a trip to the shops as the one chance in their day for conversation.

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I think I’ve coped quite well with the abundance of new technology thrown at us in recent years – coin-operated trollies and food that comes out of machines comes to mind – but when I went to the movies with a friend the other day and we had to buy our tickets from a machine ie. no student who doesn’t give a shit and is just trying to stay awake behind a desk,  I seriously had to question how good this is for our social skills.

 

For the most part, middle-aged pride forces me to argue with the adage that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, although admittedly, the limitations of the more mature body can make things a little slower.

 

But if the brain is willing…

 

For example, I have mastered how to open the modern wine bottle with its fancy screw top lid very quickly; I have stopped trying to force my keys into the button ignition of my car, and five times out of ten, I remember my recyclable shopping bags, hence avoiding the label of planet-destroyer, apart from the five times I don’t.

 

But, there are certain tasks that have proved trickier to absorb, which for the main part are linked to technology.

 

Why the fuck couldn’t they leave things alone?

 

For while the mobile phone is an improvement, it has caused me major abandonment/anxiety issues due to my dependency, like when it stops working for no reason or I have lost it and realized that there is not one single telephone number stored in my head and I am alone in a car park with no idea where my car is parked.

 

We also have parking meters now that require you to enter your car registration number. What woman has ever been able to remember their registration number?  Did they seriously think that through?

 

And, just me, or does everyone require additional assistance at the self-serve check-outs because their fruit, apparently, doesn’t exist, or their bag is not registering that there is anything in it, or their French stick has not been coded? Surely, that has to defeat their purpose?

 

I get the premise of packing your own food for the purposes of speed, efficiency and getting rid of minimum-wage staff, but find it hard to ignore the deep-seated challenge of the set up in Aldi, for example. I like to call it  “Beating the cashier”, and the aim of the game is to catch all your shopping thrown at you by the cashier and put it into the appropriate sections of your trolley – ie. Veg goes at one end, fridge stuff at the other and Who-The-Fuck-Knows-Where-That-Will-Go? somewhere in the middle – before they finish. By the end, my trolley might resemble a refuse mountain with my bags buried carefully beneath it, but it’s still a win, bitch!

 

Try it! It’s really fun.

 

And finally, does anyone know what an HTML cord is yet? Asking for an old dog. 

 

 

 

Is Menopause To Blame For My Poor Concentration As Well?

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‘Just call me a homing pigeon,’ said the old man smugly as he traversed the narrow streets of our neighbourhood, Italian Job-style, to avoid the traffic on the main arterial road to the city. 

I’ve never had and homing skills, a fact that was proven only a few days before when I got a bus to meet NC and ended up twenty kilometres further north. I had to call her anxiously to tell her I was lost.

‘I thought you told me that all the buses go to the city,’ I said accusingly as I dug around my handbag for my glasses to check Google maps – only to realise that I’d left them at home with my brain.  

‘Where are you?’ she asked me, sounding like my mother.

‘Fuck knows,’ I answered in a bleak voice, praying this was just another one of ‘those days’ and not the early signs of dementia.

I’ve never had a great sense of direction. I blame it on the timetable clash at school between Geography and Art, but I still like to think that my current issue is more linked to a distraction problem than short term memory loss.

I find it more and more difficult to concentrate these days, particularly when I’m not interested in what I’m supposed to be concentrated on. I zone out, I drop out of conversations, (or more rudely, I attempt to veer them in the direction I want them to go). Even watching Netflix, I struggle to maintain focus on complicated plots and and I catch my mind wandering to tomorrow’s dinner or my plans for the next day. 

I can concentrate on my writing, on reading books and articles on social media – the pastimes I enjoy – but the rest of the time it feels like I’m running around in a permanent fug.

Can I blame menopause? Apparently so. You see, it has been universally acknowledged that hormone fuckery and lack of sleep contribute to poor concentration in both peri-menopause and menopause itself, which means – I hope – that I’m not in the early stages of Alzheimer’s after all.

Perhaps, it’s simply that I struggle to relax. Like most women, I made a career out of multi-tasking, but in recent years my life has become less hectic and my body is still acclimatising to that change. It isn’t used to being able to sit still for periods of time.

‘Breathe, Mum,’ NC advised before she hung up. I think it’s time to take her advice.

Middle-Aged Memory Loss: When You Need A Checklist Just To Leave The House

So apparently, the old man also experiences the whole dementia thing, which I had hoped was short-term in my case and attributed to menopause rather than a permanent decline.

Getting out of the house together can be a strain these days and the organization we require to remember everything we need has become an embarrassment. We are forced to run through lengthy checklists before we feel brave enough to open the front door and enter what is becoming a newly threatening world outside. While admittedly, I am known for putting my keys in the fridge and my attempts to boil milk in the kettle, I can’t tell you how often the old man has to go back to the house for his phone or wallet. And nowhere was this new level of senility more apparent than on holiday when we were outside the comfort zone of our territory for a whole week.

One day, we booked a massage at a nearby spa, because included in the deal was the use of the rest of the spa’s facilities for the remainder of the day as well as lunch – an offer that proved impossible to resist for cheapskates like us who had reached breaking point from the feral kids permanently adrift in the pool at our own hotel (as we waited for the Department of Education to turn up after an anonymous tip-off).

‘So all I need is my swimmers?’ the old man asked me five minutes before we were being picked up, and an hour into my own preparations’.

‘No, you need a hat, sunglasses, towel, your phone and something to read,’ I replied helpfully, trying to ignore the ‘CHECK HIS FUCKING BAG!’ thought pounding in my head because I decided it was disempowering.

Two hours later, fully relaxed after a wonderful massage, I suggested that we change into our swimmers in the massage room rather than allow the old man to put any teenage girls around the pool through the torture of having to watch him do his Houdini-style towel dance.

‘I’ve forgotten my swimmers,’ he said, sheepishly, before he went on to blame me for distracting him with all the other stuff he had to remember.

So, for your entertainment, (and as a small punishment for losing his marbles before I lose mine), I bring you a photo of the old man wearing the vintage-style bottoms to the most un-itsy-bitsy bikini (thank God!) you’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, I was forced to sit around the pool for the rest of the day in my underwear, to the mortification of all the poor men under forty.

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3 Top Tips To Help You Find Your Car In The Car Park When You’re Middle-Aged

Back on the subject of anxiety in middle age, yesterday I discovered one of the worst triggers of this condition when I decided to do an early Christmas shop mixed with a top secret mission for some (probably) useless decorative bits and pieces for the house that have been deemed ‘stuff we don’t need’ by the old man. 14713554_1095138863917665_7006459478412391094_n

 

If I’m honest I just needed to get out of the house and there’s nothing apart from the beach and wine that is as good for my soul as spending money.

 

However, along with forgetting my phone when I go out (see my last post here), another issue I am experiencing a little too frequently now is remembering where I’ve parked my car in large car parks. And it makes me very anxious.

 

The first time I noticed this slow slip into senility was a few years back, just prior to Christmas again, when I had bought the biggest artificial Christmas tree ever to squeeze its ass into a food trolley and then had to search every floor of the car park dragging aforementioned tree with me, in tears, in search of my car.

 

Since then, I’ve created a “how to survive losing your car” ritual for new car parks ie. those that I’ve not already done a full recce and complete risk assessment for.

 

So here are my tips to help you find your car in the car park:

 

  1. Take a photo of the floor number and its code with your phone. If you can find a mnemonic for remembering the letters, eg. “bullshit” for B5 (Basement Five), that may also help.

 

  1. Doggedly track your steps to your first shop like a soldier on a mission. Lock in mentally where your car is positioned in relation to the exit, video your journey if you can do this without looking seedy, and make sure you count how many escalators you go up. Take a mental note  of points of interest en route such as donut shops and wine shops, which seem to work for me.

 

  1. DON’T take the lift – ROOKIE ERROR – because people can be distracting and you need to concentrate, not spend the next few minutes judging what’s in their trolley meaning your forget which floor you came from.

 

Imagine if there was a machine in the car park that allowed you to code in the position of your car or number plate when you left it and then check back in when you come back brain dead after five lost hours of trying on swimming costumes, listening to toddler tantrums and drinking coffee.

 

Or what if someone invented a device on your car key fob that had a button that when pushed set an alarm off on your car to tell you its whereabouts?  Because I always like to thoroughly research for my writing I Googled ‘device to help idiots, people with poor memory retention and absolutely zero sense of direction find their cars’ and low and behold this came up:

 

http://findmycarsmarter.com/

 

The only problem is that I can’t remember my Apple password to upload it.

 

 

Middle Age And The Importance Of Training Your Brain

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Luckily for me, whisky does help prevent dementia, because that particularly evil symptom of middle age worries me more and more.

Middle-aged women who suffer from serious anxiety should never watch movies like Still Alice.

I’ve watched it twice.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, it stars Julianne Moore as Alice, a linguistics professor, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the premature age of 50. The actress won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, in spite of being middle-aged and not taking her clothes off.

Memory loss or ‘dementia’ is one of the most debilitating side effects of the ageing process to come to terms with. When I was younger, I assumed that, like bladder leakage, it was something only seriously old people suffered from, but I know now that for many people it can be a gradual process that can start around the time your brain cells stop developing at the rate they reproduced in your youth, and worsens if you don’t exercise your brain.

Which is why many doctors recommend that people not give up work until they absolutely have to. The brain is an organ that needs to be used.

There is a memorable scene in the movie when Alice first goes for tests and the doctor asks her to remember three facts that he will ask her about again at the end of their conversation. She struggles to remember them only five minutes later. I swear I could actually see all the middle-aged people in the audience mouthing those three facts (like I was) for the longest five minutes of our lives, to check they were okay, thereby ignoring the film and the sad fact that Alice’s had forgotten what was going to come up.

The movie takes us through Alice’s journey post-diagnosis and the effect her illness has on her family and her career. She even takes us to a home for Alhzeimer’s patients, who are beyond self and family care, yet still human beings – who could be my mother or yours – living in their own private hell of isolation and confusion.

There’s no doubt that dementia is a terrifying outcome of old age, but it is even more devastating when it happens prematurely. As we age, we are continually made aware that we need to look after our hearts and our guts, but most of us ignore the epicenter of our being – our brains.

Like many of you, I expect, I often joke about the effects of my own memory loss as another symptom of menopause and old age, but when short-term memory loss becomes really noticeable, it is frightening. A couple of years back in the lead up to Christmas I found myself in the awkward position of losing the car in the car park and searching each level of the car park with a 6ft Christmas Tree in my trolley, gradually falling apart with relief and shame when I finally found it. Sure, it was Christmas, the mall was busy and I was super-stressed, but that type of situation becomes more and more common as we get older.

All of a sudden we forget common words in conversation, start putting the house keys away in the fridge, running through lists just to leave the house and before we know it we become helpless in a world that once felt safe and has suddenly become a terrifying, threatening place to live in, surrounded by people who for the most part have little tolerance and understanding of the disease, and who treat sufferers like idiots.

After watching the film, I downloaded the Scrabble app to my phone in a panic. Alice uses it to exercise her brain, but it won’t hide the reality of just how dependent I am already on simple props such as daily lists to function, rather than getting to the source of the issue and taking the time out to train my brain, like I do for the rest of my body. All I’m doing is developing coping mechanisms to manage my brain’s new limitations.

Train your brain, peeps.