Energy Saving and Cognitive Tricks

Thought I would share a few things I have found useful for saving energy and surviving brain fog since I’ve had moderate-severe ME/CFS/CFIDS. 

Not all of them might suit or make sense – and not everyone has the budget for things like a new bed.  It’s a personal list and maybe you might find some of it useful.

– Electric Toothbrush

I didn’t think an electric toothbrush would make a lot of difference – but it really does.  I use a Ultrasonex which uses ultrasound as well as the vibrating bristles to clean your teeth.  It’s fairly lightweight and even on days when I am exhausted and haven’t the energy to do a long/proper brush I know the electric brush will do a better job than a manual. 

Mine costs under £20 off ebay (my model doesn’t seem to be on sale at the moment so they may be brining out a new version).  Even my dentist was impressed.  After using it for just a week I went from needing a double scale and polish to needing just a quick scale and polish by the dentist.  Let the brush do the work I say.

– Grabber/Reacher

I’ve had a grabber/reacher for quite a few years now because of my back problem.  But I’ve found it handy for energy saving with CFS too.  It gives me a longer reach so saves me having to move or get up just to pick up something for instance.  I can even open the curtains whilst I’m still in bed thanks to my grabber.  I use it for putting on my shoes without bending down, picking up post or dropped items – even for fussing the cat sometimes!  You can get these for under £10 if you shop around.

– Wheelchair

I bought a lightweight wheelchair earlier in the year to help conserve energy on outings.  It was a difficult step to take but itdoes make a huge difference.  I couldn’t afford an electric chair and they are often quite bulky to transport in a car – so I went for a good manual chair.  After all I haven’t been out anywhere onmy own in over a year.  So I usually have someone to push me. 

Even on days when I feel well enough to go out using the chair means I still feel well at the end of an outing.  I can participate more and I don’t slow everyone down as much I used to.  Outings used to be about small short bursts of energy/walking and looking for benches.  Using a chair gives a lot more freedom and flexibility.  And it also means I am not paying with post exertional malaise for days or weeks afterwards.  I

If you’re going to invest in a chair I would say spend as much as you can afford to.  Cheaper chairs are often heavier making it harder to manoeurve and for your friend/carer to store it or throw it in the back of the car.  Also I think it’s important (and less tiring) if you are comfortable.

I’m also considering whether a four wheel rollator might be useful for days when my energy level is a little better.

– Drinking water

Oh I get so sick of people telling me to drink lots of water!  Sigh.  I don’t want to be one of those people.  BUT.  I have noticed that sometimes when I suddenly feel very tired or run down, that taking a few minutes to stop and drink some water can really help.  And it doesn’t really cost anything to do so I figure it can’t hurt. 

I normally use a 50cl plastic water bottle because I can put the lid on and keep it ight next to me at all times. 

Be careful with plastic bottles as they supposedly start to release chemicals after a while.  I now use a Belu bottle of water – which is made from corn (yes really!) and refill it with tap water.  We do have a filter jug which we use for tap water as it helps remove some of the chemicals and it just tastes better! 

I tried using a Sigg bottle (which has non toxic inside coating) but found it a little bulky and (though it might sound silly) the screw top needed too many turns and it wore me out!

– Screen Reader

Earlier in the year my brain fog was particularly bad.  I found it difficult to read anything more than a few lines of text.  I still struggle with large articles, blogs, emails etc especially with long paragraphs. 

I installed ReadPlease on my PC.  It’s a programme that will read out text to you – you can copy and paste text from any document or web page and it will read it to you.  I find this very useful and it helps me to comprehend better.  There is a free version which is excellent. 

I upgraded to the ReadPlease Plus edition which lets you add pronunciations and anchor the screen readerto the top of your screen amongst other useful things.

– Adapting my PC

To help with typing and with reading on the screen espeically I applied some adaptions to my PC.  This is free to do and helped make things easier for me.  I use a pale yellow background as it makes text easier for me to read. 

There’s great instructions about altering background, font sizes and other things in this article.

– A comfortable bed

Not something we can all afford and a huge effort to action I know – but I am so glad we bought a new bed last year.  Lots of room (king size), comfortable mattress and a sloping headrest so I can sit up in bed comfortably.  You definately need to enlist help to install a new bed. 

You can also now buy mattress toppers to add comfort, as well as specially designed cushions and back rests for sitting up in bed comfortably.  I think you spend such a lot of time in bed – especially if you are a CFS sufferer – it’s worth being really comfortable.

– Tidy as you go

I am such an untidy person by nature.  But I have found that the only way to stay sane with CFS is to put things away as you go.  It saves me brain power (“now where did I put that …”) and energy to tidy the things I use as I go along. 

Tidying a big pile is exhausting.  It’s much easier to do it a little at a time.

– Keeping things where you use them

In addition to tidying I’ve found it useful to keep things in the places where I use them.  So I keep  the medication I need to take at night next to the bed.  I also keep earplugs, tissues, pain killers, mouth guard and intensive moisturiser right next to my bed within arms reach.  I emergency snack bars in an accessible spot in the bedroom – so if I am exhausted I can still stem my hunger without a trip downstairs.  I keep a second home phone within grabber distance of the bed.  And so on.

I also use my handbag as a portable stash of stuff of important stuff.  In there I keep medications, sketchbook, pen/paper, bacterial dry hand cleanser, etc.  That way there are always just an arms length away.  The trick is keeping the weight down so it’s not exhausting to carry around!

– One trip multiple purpose

When it takes a lot of energy to move about I try to make the most of every trip.  So for instance if I am downstairs I will combine a trip to the toilet with a small detour to the kitchen to fetch a drink.  Perhaps when very tired I will combine a toilet trip to the bathroom with brushing my hair, or brushing my teeth so I get one hygeine task done at a time. 

– Notebook as a memory extension

I use a small (A7) notepad to make lists of things I need to remember or have to do.  It might be a list of every single thing to do that day (when my memory is very bad), or a note of something someone has asked me to do.  I also jot down any expenditure I make on online shopping so I can tally it up once a week or so.

Writing things down can really help when your cognitive function and memory are poor.

– Repeating things / Talking out loud

I find a useful cogntive/memory trick is to repeat things and say them out loud.  It’s simple but effective.  When you’re asked to do something, or often for me when I ask a question and get an answer – I find repeating what has been said out loud very helpful.  It clarifies that I have understood the words said correctly and helps to sort of get it set into my mind. 

I also find that talking out loud can help when doing tasks is difficult.  If I say out loud what the next step is in making a cup of tea I can usually get through it successfully.  You might feel a bit silly but it does help.

– Minimise noise

I found early on in CFS that I find it incredibly difficult to have a conversation whilst the television is on.  I find background noise adds to my confusion and makes it hard to concentrate.  So usually I don’t listen to the radio or have the tv on whilst I am doing other things.  Sometimes I find turning the sound down on the TV during ad breaks very helpful.  I often find adverts over stimulating and they are usually a lot louder than the programme you are watching.

I also have ear plugs and have recently bought a pair of ear defenders – so if I have unwanted noise during the day (like building work, garden tools, etc) I can block it out.  I often find this kind of monotonous intrusive noise quite stressful.

– Excel for budget tracking

I have used Excel for tracking my monthly budget and expenditure for many years.  It’s how I got myself out of debt and stayed that way!    I have different categories of expenditure (like regular bills) and then sub tables for every day things which add up the total and show me how much I have left that month.  It’s a useful brain saver because once you’ve set it up it can do all the maths for you.

– Use a friend

In the nicest possible way use a friend.  Whether it be for practical or emotional support.

I also like to use my friends when I am struggling with poor cognitive function to find out what I would do normally.  If I feel lost or confused they know me well enough to see clearly and have a good guess at what I would do or say if I was well.  They also remind me how that confusion is a temporary state.

– Digital Hard Drive Recorder

Another expensive item which isn’t practical for everyone.  We had ours as a wedding present.  I’ve found this invaluable.  I like my telly programmes but sometimes I’m not in the right frame of mind to watch them.  Often the good programmes and films are on late and I need a decent bed time these days to get my 10 or so hours of sleep.  With a digital recorder it’s easy to record programmes and watch them when it suits me.  No need to get off the sofa to change a tape or DVD – just point and press to watch a programme.

I’m also able to record some daft telly that only I like in our house so I have trashy stuff to watch in the day when I’m not capable of anything else.

– Online shopping

Without online shopping I don’t know where I’d be!  I’m not able to get out to the shops by myself – and even with help it’s an exhausting affair.  With online shopping I can take as much time as I like selecting items and shopping around for the best price.  I can order any time of the day or night.  And as items are often cheaper than on the high street it offsets the postage costs.  I also figure I am not using petrol/parking charges or bus fare so postage is ok to pay. 

I’m also able to buy some items which would be difficult to source in my local shops – like some vitamins and suppliments.  I also now have a credit card with cash back so I’m even making a few pennies when I shop.

– Keeping in touch via the internet

The internet has without a doubt been an absolute life line to me.  It is my main means of keeping in touch with the outside world.  I find online communication much easier than phone or face to face.  Using Facebook and MySpace gives me an easy way to keep in touch with lots of people simply – a way to tell them what is happening in my world and vice versa without a big fuss.  Email is great for more personal contact and exchanging photos and so forth. 

I also blog and use other social networks like Flickr to make connections with people with similar interests, outlook and so forth.

– Answer phone /  caller ID

An answer phone is an essential piece of kit when you find talking on the phone difficult.  I struggle with non-social calls (although even social calls leave me exhasuted at the moment).  So if I don’t recognise the number (which is where caller ID is very handy!) then I can leave it to answer phone to deal with later or refer to hubbie, etc.

– Lowering your standards

The simplest energy saver I have found is to lower my standards!  My house isn’t very clean. I don’t bathe or wash my hair as much as the average person.  I often spend half the day in pyjamas.  When I wrap a present I’m happy it’s wrapped and not bothered if it’s not perfect.  When I chat with friends or write a card or say hello to a neighbour it doesn’t matter if I’m tired or slurring or get mixed up.  I don’t have to be perfect.  And even though my house isn’t clean, my clothes are scruffy (but comfortable) and my hair is unkempt the world doesn’t fall apart.

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9 Responses to “Energy Saving and Cognitive Tricks”


  1. 1 Rachel M October 1, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    Once again great post, Rachel!
    May I add shower chair and walking stick? (And maybe laptop computer not desk top) 😉

  2. 2 rachelcreative October 1, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Yes – very good suggestions Rachel! I’m still undecided on a shower chair – well bath chair in our case but very useful. Also a perching stool for the kitchen. I shall have to make a list for a follow up post 😉

    Thanks.

  3. 3 rockycha October 1, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Rachell 🙂 Great Suggesntions! Pretty much my only social contact is the internet, and I find social phone calls exhausting too. I’m going to recommend that ReadPlease program to my sister, she has difficulty reading on the pc.

    I too suffer from M.E., CFS, I always find your blog a fun place to visit to see what you’re up to. I find your blog through the tag surfer here on wordpress. If you don’t mind, I like your bloggy so much that I’m adding you to my blogroll. Please let me know if this doesn’t suit you. Otherwise, Love yer blog, I hope you feel better soon!

    http://rockycha.wordpress.com

  4. 4 rachelcreative October 1, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Oh yes please do add me to your blogroll! I never think to ask – I just add people on 🙂

    Thanks for saying hello and I’ll be checking out your blog 🙂

  5. 5 Fighting Fatigue/Sandy October 2, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    Very good suggestions! Healthy people take for granted what those of us with CFS have to contemplate and plan over.

  6. 6 ouiser October 3, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I never thought about the electric toothbrush idea! Now if they come out with an electric hairbrush, I’m golden! Many excellent suggestions!

  7. 7 rachelcreative October 3, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Or one of those machines like on Wallace and Grommit where it combs your hair, brushes your teeth, puts your clothes on, butters your toast and pours you a cup of tea 😉

  8. 8 ouiser October 3, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Not sure what Wallace and Grommit are, but I’ll take two of whatever that machine is! Don’t care what color… nor how many months I’ll have to make payments…. JUST SEND THE DARN THINGS NOW!! One for me and one for the boy! he, he


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