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Earlier this year I was teaching a Master of Memory class when someone asked me, “how does covid affect memory?” This is a valid question as up to 30% of COVID-19 patients at some clinics report experiencing brain fog weeks to months after they recover from their illness. Brain fog is a term used to describe how you feel when your thinking is sluggish, fuzzy, and not sharp. You might experience brain fog when you are sleep deprived, jet-lagged, recovering from an illness, or experiencing side effects of medication. According to Dr. Tamara Fong, an assistant scientist and associate professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School “In many cases, brain fog is temporary and gets better on its own. However, we don’t really understand why brain fog happens after COVID-19, or how long these symptoms are likely to last. But we do know that this form of brain fog can affect different aspects of cognition.”

Cognition refers to the processes in the brain that we use to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. People experiencing brain fog may have trouble paying attention, remembering instructions, making plans, learning, storing, and later recalling information.

To help clear brain fog, doctors recommend practicing the same behaviors that have been shown to protect thinking and memory:

  • Exercise – aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Moderate intensity is anything that gets your heart beating faster. If 150 minutes is too much, do what you can – every little bit adds up!
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet – fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
  • Get adequate sleep – at least 7 hours a night.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do drink, limit consumption to 1-2 drinks a day.
  • Engage in social activities – virtually, or in person. A simple text or phone call is sometimes all it takes to stay connected.
  • Do brain-stimulating activities like games and puzzles, listening to music, reading, and practicing mindfulness.

For more information on how to protect and improve your memory, whether you’re experiencing brain fog or not, view the Extension Today segment “Master Your Memory” below.

Written by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Franklin County

Reviewed by Patrice Powers-Barker, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Lucas County

Sources:

Budson, A. E. (2021). What is COVID-19 brain fog – and how can you clear it? Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-covid-19-brain-fog-and-how-can-you-clear-it-2021030822076

Fong, T. (2022). Brain fog: Memory and attention after COVID-19. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/brain-fog-memory-and-attention-after-covid-19-202203172707

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