You walk into a restaurant to meet a friend and remember you were supposed to meet somewhere else. You leave your boss's office and, quick as that, forget the deadline she gave you for a new project. You had your keys in your hand, you were just holding them, and now they're gone — again. What's going on? Here, nine possibilities for why your mind is wandering, and expert advice on how to get your concentration back.
Your Numbers Are Low
Fuzzy mindedness could signal a vitamin or hormone deficiency, especially if you're also feeling unusually tired. For example, hypothyroidism – too-low levels of thyroid hormone – could be to blame, says Dr. Robert Orford, consultant at the Mayo Clinic's Preventive Medicine Division in Scottsdale, AZ.
"If there's a deficiency in thyroid hormone, metabolism slows, which reduces blood flow and cellular function in various parts of the brain," Dr. Orford says. B-12 deficiency and related anemia can have similar symptoms. Most people get plenty of B-12 in their diet, but an underlying condition such as Crohn's or celiac disease can prevent your body from absorbing it.
Schedule an appointment for a physical with a doctor who'll take time with you. Make a list of any other health changes you've noticed that could help pinpoint the source of your problems concentrating.
"You want a comprehensive medical exam, including blood tests," says Dr. Orford. Also ask your doctor to test for cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome or prediabetes: if left untreated, they can cause cognitive decline.
Your Hormones Have Gone Haywire
If you're nearing the end of your baby-making years, your inability to think clearly may signal the start of perimenopause — that run-up to menopause when menstrual cycles become irregular and estrogen drops. Lack of concentration is a common complaint of perimenopausal women, says Dr. Kimberly Pearson, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Women's Mental Health. "They describe it as feeling fuzzy. That's the word a lot of women use. They feel like their vocabulary is diminishing, like they're not as sharp, not as crystal clear."
If other signs point to perimenopause (hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness), consider short-term hormone replacement therapy to get you over the hump.
"Women who go on replacement notice such a shift," says Dr. Pearson. "They say, 'Oh my God, I have my brain back.'"
If HRT is out because of the health risks involved, ask your doctor about the possibility of taking a low-dose, concentration-boosting stimulant such as Ritalin instead.
"And exercise seems to help everything," says Dr. Pearson.
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