Do you ever find that your mind starts to wander when you’re at the office, or that you’ve misplaced your keys for the fourth time in a day? If it’s happening often, your diabetes may be the culprit. While there is no official medical term to describe the lapses in concentration that people with diabetes say they’ve experienced, anecdotal evidence suggests that they can occur with frustrating regularity. But the good news is, they don’t have to. ‘Things can always be improved,’ confirms Diabetic Living endocrinologist Dr Sultan Linjawi. ‘Don’t just accept it – investigate it. Early intervention of problems is always best.’
Here, the experts reveal simple strategies for keeping the fuzzies at bay, along with ways to get through those unwelcome moments:
WHAT CAUSES MENTAL MUDDLES?
1. Unbalanced blood glucose levels: Do you frequently experience hypos (low blood glucose levels)? These can reduce the supply of glucose to your brain, causing you to lose concentration. ‘This can increase your risk of dementia as low sugars may damage brain cells over time,’ warns Dr Linjawi. And regular high blood glucose levels (hypers) can cause you to pass a lot of urine. The result? You become dehydrated, which also affects your ability to stay alert.
2. Restless nights: If you’re waking up fatigued or irritable after eight hours in bed, you may have sleep apnoea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing repeatedly during the night. This disorder is fairly common and affects an estimated 23 per cent of people with type 2. ‘It is essentially oxygen deprivation,’ says Dr Linjawi, which explains why it can lead to a loss of focus. Ask your doctor for a sleep study (in which your sleep patterns are monitored) if you think you may be at risk.
3. Anxiety or depression: ‘Problems such as depression, anxiety and distress are higher in people with a chronic illness such as diabetes because it is stressful living with it,’ says Diabetic Living GP Dr Gary Deed. ‘In turn, being anxious can make it difficult to concentrate.’
4. Aches and pains: Diabetic neuropathy, which damages your nerves and causes pain, is thought to affect 60-70 per cent of all people with diabetes. Neuropathy is more prevalent in people who have been living with diabetes for several decades; are aged over 40; and those who struggle to manage their blood glucose levels. Dr Deed says that pain – particularly joint and back pain – caused by neuropathy and other diabetes-related disorders, can cause mental fogginess.
5. A change in routine: Going through transitions in your life or diabetes management can also affect your concentration, says Dr Deed. Switching your medications, reaching puberty, starting a new job, moving house or getting married or divorced can all make you more susceptible to concentration lapses.
6. Poor eyesight: Diabetes can cause eye problems, including diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels at the back of your eyes). If you’re having difficulty focusing physically, then your mental sharpness can be compromised as well, according to Dr Deed.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT MENTAL FUZZIES?
Once you’ve identified the source of your fuzzies, how can you stop them from happening? Maintaining stable blood glucose levels is a great starting point. ‘Only when people have had good blood sugars for a while, do they realise how much better they feel, compared to how they used to feel when their levels were unstable,’ says Dr Linjawi. Getting regular health checks is important, too. They will help rule out other conditions that can affect your concentration, such as low blood pressure or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). It pays to keep a diary to record when and where the fuzzy episodes are occurring – this will highlight any patterns.
Make a note of your blood glucose levels, the foods you’ve been eating around the time of the episode and your temperature, so you can discuss your findings with your diabetes care team.
HOW CAN YOU TREAT THE MENTAL FUZZIES?
Let’s face it, diabetes can be unpredictable, and even if you’re consistently maintaining good blood glucose levels, you may still experience the odd muddled moment. The best way to manage this when it happens is to...
Step 1: Take a rest. Sit quietly at your desk at work or in a chair at home, and keep the people around you posted about how you’re feeling.
Step 2: Check your blood glucose levels. Both Dr Deed and Dr Linjawi say this is vital, as it can help to identify if your BGLs are unstable, or if there might be an underlying issue behind how you are feeling, such as an infection.
Step 3: If the fuzzies aren’t going away, seek medical help. ‘Never hesitate to contact your doctor. Diabetes can be challenging to manage, and we’re here to help as your health is paramount,’ says Dr Deed.
By Simone McClenaughan