Having trouble thinking clearly, remembering things, and solving problems are all common symptoms of brain fog, a symptom that may affect people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). For some people with lupus, these cognitive issues include difficulty spelling, which can interfere with daily life.
“Filling out paperwork, paying bills, or doing things on our computer is quite challenging and frustrating! I find myself forgetting how to spell the simplest of words,” noted one member of MyLupusTeam.
If spelling and other aspects of cognition are becoming difficult for you, read on to learn more about the possible causes and the next steps to take.
Different parts of the brain help with spelling. Sometimes spelling struggles are related to long-term memory issues, while other times, working memory is to blame. Working memory allows the brain to keep track of information for the completion of a task.
Long-term memory can affect your ability to remember words you learned how to spell in the past, especially those that aren’t spelled the way they sound. With working-memory problems, you may know how to spell the word, but putting the right letters in the right order becomes challenging.
Computer-mapping research on people with stroke-related brain damage found that the brain’s left hemisphere is primarily associated with both long-term and working memory problems. Spelling problems based on either type of memory loss are linked to different areas within the left hemisphere.
It’s a good idea to write down your symptoms, including when they happen and which words you forget how to spell. This information can help your rheumatologist or other health care provider pinpoint a more specific diagnosis.
For example, people who have lexical agraphia forget how to spell words that aren’t spelled phonetically, like “yacht” or “sauce.” Another condition, expressive aphasia, describes spelling and grammatical errors that affect both speaking and writing.
Give your doctor examples of when you get tripped up, such as:
Also, be sure to note if you seem to have the most trouble at certain times of day or any other factors that seem to contribute.
Lupus can cause fatigue and brain fog, making it harder to perform certain mental tasks like spelling. “I’m noticing that I’m forgetting how to spell a lot of words,” one MyLupusTeam member said. “As I’m texting or writing, I’m stuck because I can’t spell the words. I’m trying to write a text, and it’s such a simple word. It’s so embarrassing. The other day I had to ask my husband how to spell the word ‘difficult,’ and he just stared at me. I told him I couldn’t think of how to spell it.”
Health experts aren’t completely sure what causes lupus-related brain fog. Potential causes include:
Additionally, comorbidities (coexisting health conditions) may impair spelling and other cognitive tasks. For instance, people with lupus have a higher risk of diabetes, possibly related to steroid use as part of lupus management. And research confirms that high blood sugar and insulin resistance can cause short-term and long-term effects on brain function. A 2021 study has also linked lupus to various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why paying attention to odd symptoms like forgetting to spell and sharing any changes in cognitive function with your health care provider is so important.
“I have brain fog. It’s getting to the point where I forget how to spell a word or I can’t get the word out that I’m trying to say, and the slow thinking is starting to freak me out,” shared a MyLupusTeam member.
Anytime you find yourself unsettled by physical or mental changes, you should contact your health care team for support. Symptoms like forgetting how to spell or having trouble remembering words during conversations shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s possible that a simple change, like adjusting your medication or checking to see if your blood sugar is too high, could help you find a solution or at least clear away some of the fogginess.
Treating underlying issues before they get worse is critical, particularly with lupus. Your provider may suggest cognitive testing to evaluate your brain function and recommend strategies you can use at home to improve your quality of life.
You don’t have to try to ignore spelling difficulties and other cognitive symptoms or brush them off as something you must accept. It’s possible that making a few changes can help lift your lupus fog and improve your spelling. Below are some techniques that can help you spell or reduce your stress around spelling.
If you’re getting tripped up by how to spell a certain word, try rephrasing your speech and using a different word. You can also trigger your memory with reminders of frequently used words. One MyLupusTeam member shared their strategy: “I find myself forgetting how to spell simple words. I now have paper placed around my apartment for quick reminders.”
When you’re texting or emailing, use spell-checking and autocorrecting tools that suggest words as you go and help complete your sentences.
Try to give yourself extra time to complete tasks that require writing and spelling so you don’t feel rushed or pressured. Avoid distractions by focusing on one thing at a time. For example, if you’re writing an email, turn off the television or go to a quiet room.
To help boost your brainpower, try playing online brain games or using apps designed for adults with cognitive problems. Many resources are geared toward people who have had strokes or are trying to ward off dementia. Even if that doesn’t quite match your situation, you can benefit from a mental workout by working puzzles and exercising your brain’s problem-solving and memory recall skills.
Reading a printed book before bed might also help, offering the added benefit that shutting off screens may help you stay sharp and get enough sleep.
Don’t be afraid to explain to others that troubles with spelling are part of your health condition. People are more understanding and patient when they learn what you’re going through. Also, many people struggle with spelling and may find it comforting to commiserate with you.
MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, over 223,000 people with lupus come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories.
Have you experienced mental fog symptoms like trouble with spelling, remembering things, or finding the right words? How does brain fog affect your day-to-day life, and what strategies help you manage cognitive impairments and other symptoms of lupus? Post your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by sharing on your Activities page.