Brain fog and concentration issues

After leaving the ICU, 30% – 80% of patients may have problems with things like sleeping, concentration, memory and mood. You may have difficulty with remembering, paying attention, solving problems and working on complex tasks.

Some describe these symptoms as “brain fog”. Doctors call it “cognitive dysfunction”. Delirium also plays a part in why some patients experience these issues.

Some people improve during the first year after discharge from the hospital. Some people may never fully recover. Patients that don't fully recover are usually much older and have cognitive problems before ICU.

Cognitive dysfunction may affect whether you can return to work. It may affect your ability to manage finances, or to concentrate for periods of time. Driving may not be safe.

What can help

If you are struggling to make decisions, or remember things, make an appointment with your GP. They will discuss what is going on and assess your level of thinking and concentration.

The key to recovery is to take things slow, to get good nutrition and to rest and sleep. If things like reading, writing or working on the computer gives you headaches then stop and take a break. Aim to space activities out during the day so you are not overloading yourself too much.

Do not attempt to drive a car until your GP thinks you are safe to do so.

Connect with friends and family

• keep in touch with friends and family
• return to hobbies and activities you enjoy as you are able
• take things slowly and do not rush your recovery

Where to go for support

General practitioner (GP)

Make an appointment to see your GP. Your GP may be able to refer you to services that can help with your recovery. Ask for help from your GP if you are experiencing anxiety, depression or trouble sleeping. You may need a referral to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

ICU Follow-up Clinic

If the ICU you were in does an ICU Follow-up Clinic, contact them to make an appointment.

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Related topics

This topic was reviewed by an intensive care medicine specialist in July 2022.

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