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How to talk to your doctor about midlife brain fog

Medical & health articles 8 Apr 2024
Woman smiling on porch

Have you walked into a room only to forget why you went in there in the first place? Do you struggle to concentrate? Are you in the middle of a sentence when you suddenly lose a word you need?

What you may be experiencing is brain fog, a symptom of menopause reported by up to 62% of women. It can be a worrying symptom – many women fear they are slipping into early onset dementia – and you may struggle to explain it to your doctor. But we’re here to help. These tips and tools can help you to kick off the conversation and get the treatment that’s right for you.

Call it by its name

Talking about brain fog can be tricky. It’s a symptom that often comes and goes, and can be hard to describe. But Jean Hailes GP Dr Tessa King says that providing details and examples of your experience is crucial.

“If you’re not performing as well at work, or if you’re having difficulty in juggling the schedule of everyone at home, tell the doctor,” she says.

“You can say things like, ‘it feels like a physical fog around me’, or ‘my brain is not working with the same clarity as before’.

“Even using the word ‘brain fog’ can be helpful. The doctor will be trying to make sense of the symptoms so the more detail you can provide, the better.”

Associate Professor Caroline Gurvich, deputy director of HER (Health, Education, Research) Centre Australia, agrees. “Tell the doctor exactly what is happening. If you have difficulty remembering names, if you feel you can’t make decisions as efficiently as you used to, tell them that. If you can’t find the right words to describe what is happening, use the term ‘brain fog’.”

Ask if it’s menopause

Despite the large number of midlife women who struggle with brain fog, it has not always been discussed as a symptom of perimenopause or menopause. “If you have night sweats or hot flushes, they’re more obvious,” says Associate Professor Gurvich.

“Psychological symptoms are less spoken about, and women are less likely to link these symptoms to perimenopause.”

“Psychological symptoms are less spoken about, and women are less likely to link these symptoms to perimenopause.”

“It’s important for women to empower themselves by asking the question – Is this [symptom] part of menopause? Is it perimenopause? If it is, then you can discuss treatment options. Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), for example, can be helpful for some women.”

Perimenopause and menopause symptom checklist

Get to know the wide-ranging symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, with our menopause symptom checklist.

Writing down your brain fog symptoms in the lead-up to your appointment can be helpful, says Dr King. “We all have difficulty remembering things over time so making notes in a diary can be very useful. You might note how long the symptoms of brain fog have been going on, exactly what’s happening, and how often it’s happening.”

Associate Professor Gurvich also thinks keeping a journal is a great idea. “The more evidence you can gather, the easier it will be for the GP to understand what is going on,” she says.

“The more evidence you can gather, the easier it will be for the GP to understand what is going on.”

You might find it easier to record your notes on your phone, including dates and times of symptoms, and how it’s impacting you.

What if the doctor dismisses you?

Dr King, says that women's midlife psychological symptoms, like brain fog, can sometimes be dismissed by health professionals.

“However brain fog is becoming more accepted and understood in mainstream medicine and media,” she says. “But sometimes women worry that it’s something worse than it is. They become anxious and that can make their brain fog symptoms worse.”

“If women feel that their brain fog is a symptom of perimenopause but it’s being dismissed, they should find a doctor that specialises in women’s health where their issues will be adequately addressed.”

You can search for a GP that has a special interest in menopause on the Australasian Menopause Society website.

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Last updated: 
22 April 2024
Last reviewed: 
24 May 2024