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My experience with what Ashley Ringstaff calls “Cog-fog”

NOVEMBER 11, 2013 AT 4:40 PM
Cog-fog. Thanks for putting a name to it. It has been difficult to explain to people who are at the receiving end of my cog-fog why it takes so long to find the words that would normally be sliding off the tip of my tongue with ease as well as why it takes me so long to get my thoughts out. My husband for example sometimes does his hand circling motion like the @ sign to get my thoughts moving faster. I am sure that that happens silently in other people’s minds as they are waiting for me to wind up my thoughts. It is very embarrassing as others have described,especially when the nature of my work involves leadership in an academic career where expressing ideas and thoughts are highly valued.

A few others have shared about how their jobs have been affected by cog-fog. Jobs that require public speaking, presentations, motivational speaking become a source of terror instead of rewarding and exciting. I have had to limit the amount of work I do that involves presentations, public speaking and committee work.

When I do have to do presentations to a group of people who don’t know me, I prepare power points as props to focus me and the audience on the flow of what I am trying to present. Writing out my thoughts before I present them orally has become my crutch much like the cane I carry around with me so that I don’t get stranded in the middle of nowhere.

I limit the amount of phone calls in order to avoid the anxiety of the cog-fog. A strategy that I use to communicate more effectively is writing emails that are carefully crafted so that I can pause and find the words and phrases I know are there somewhere in my brain. I can go back and revise what I wrote when the right words finally find their way past those nasty lesions that interrupt the flow of words from my brain to my mouth. I can look up details that I forget and then insert them in the spaces that I leave for those words when they finally get past the lesions.

I try to visualize what is happening in my brain according to the explanation my neurologist finally gave me. She explained that the lesions that are the cause of many symptoms of MS interrupt the message that the different parts of your brain are responsible for physical functions. If the lesions are in a part of the brain that is responsible for speech and cognitive functioning, then the pathways are broken much like a electrical cord that has been frayed. So I visualize the neurons going back and forth trying to get past that lesion to the part of my brain that is the reservoir holding the thoughts and words that I want to access. Like a bad wireless connection to the internet.

So, here I am trying to express myself in writing, pausing to find words, waiting patiently until I can push through to my reservoir of words. No wonder we are exhausted. There is so much more activity that we experience than those with non MS brains.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Lexine Darden
    6 years ago

    Frustrating it is to not have the command of your communication as you once did. Although I have not experienced this “cog-fog” to the extent you described I certainly empathize and admire your tenacity to continue doing what you love and that which is rewading to you. Thanks for this inspirational post.

  • Kaitlin Emily
    6 years ago

    Wow, does this ever hit home! I think I’ve had issues with “cog fog” for a long time but hadn’t actually made the connection until recently. Having been diagnosed at 12 and going through high school and university with MS, I’d always just thought I was absent-minded! Part of this is probably because, while I lose money, my phone, keys, books, etc on a daily basis, I have a really good episodic memory which (used to) help(s) me to remember all of the items on my to-do without going back to my notes! Despite being able to excel in assignments, research papers, and other major projects, presentations and tests terrified me as I never knew if all of the work I’d put into studying and learning material would help me if I suddenly “blanked.” Word-finding has definitely become hard for me, and trying to focus on, process, and attend to written or spoken language is a nightmare! This is certainly troublesome as someone working as a lab manager in neuroscience/psychology/linguistics research labs! At a recent meeting with my neurologist, I read (off of a list of course) the many increasingly irksome cognitive problems I’ve been experiencing in an effort to prompt him to give me a solution to my cog fog woes. The response he gave was troubling. “Kaitlin, you’re going through great pains to tell me about all of the ways that you’re doing poorly, when you’re really, clinically, doing quite well. All of these cognitive issues are things you’re going to have to learn to live with. They’re part of your life now.” I am struggling with this much more than any other type of symptom I’ve experienced. But, I am encouraged to see that I’m not the only one, and also to read some of the ways that you’ve adapted to the challenges of cog fog. Thanks for posting!

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