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Improving memory, thinking, and focus

Our brains change as we age. Day-to-day problems with memory and clear thinking are common as people age and their lives become more complicated.

  • These problems can be part of the normal aging process.
  • There can also be side effects from some of the medications used to manage chronic pain.
  • Opioids and many medications used to treat depression and anxiety can affect memory and judgment.

Your doctor may recommend cognitive testing and/or cognitive therapy. Cognitive testing is a noninvasive way to measure your memory and thinking ability. For people whose brain function has been impaired, cognitive therapy is used to improve your memory and thinking abilities.

You can slow down the aging process and keep your brain healthy by focusing on how you live your life, making changes where necessary, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure by eating heart healthy foods, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco.
  • Drink only in moderation.
  • Take steps to address fatigue and increase your energy levels.
  • Stay mentally and physically active.
  • Manage stress and negative emotions. Stress, anxiety, and depression take a toll on the brain. Negative emotions can interfere with your ability to think clearly, remember things, and make good judgments. Stress can also interfere with sleep, making it even harder to maintain clear thinking and memory.
  • Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Some medications can cause brain fog or affect your memory. These include opioid pain killers, anxiety medications such as AtivanTM and ValiumTM, allergy medicines, medical marijuana, and other drugs used to treat spasticity or other pain-related issues.
  • Use aids to help you remember. Make lists, set up reminders on your smart phone or computer, use timers or stop watches when cooking. There may also be timers on your cookstove or microwave that you can use.


Medications that may impair memory and clear thinking 

Many of the medications that are used to help manage chronic pain can impair your memory and ability to think clearly.

  • Opioid pain medications commonly impair memory, judgment, and cognition (‘brain fog’).
  • Marijuana (in any form) affects memory in the short-term and may have long term effects (this is still being studied).

These include:

  • Opioid medications, such as fentanyl, Tylenol # 3TM, tramadol
  • Anti-depressant medications such as amitriptyline
  • Anti-anxiety drugs, like ValiumTM or AtivanTM
  • Sleeping pills (like AmbienTM, BenadrylTM)
  • Medical marijuana
  • Medications used to treat muscle spasms

Other drugs that can affect your memory or clear thinking are:

  • allergy medications (antihistamines)
  • cold medicines

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about adjusting your medications to help you. These may include:

  • Lowering the dose
  • Switching to a different product
  • Changing when you take it or how often you take it
  • Avoiding taking these drugs in combination with other medications (even non-prescription drugs) or alcohol