- Many cancer patients experience mental fogginess during or after cancer treatments. These problems, known more commonly as ‘chemo brain’, can be extremely frustrating for cancer patients. Chemo brain may be a transient problem, or it may last for years.
What is Chemo Brain?
Chemo Brain is the term used for several cognitive changes cancer patients and survivors fact. Patients may find they have experience some or all of the following:
-Forgetting details you would ordinarily remember (names, dates, etc)
For most cancer patients, these symptoms only last for a brief period of time. However, if chemo brain lasts for months or years, it can have a significant impact on a cancer patient’s quality of life.
What Causes Chemo Brain?
Scientists believe chemo brain has more than one cause. In some cases the disease itself or the drugs used to fight the disease cause cognitive impairment. For others, problems with mental clarity can arise from the stress of having cancer, from lack of sleep, or from developing depression or anxiety. Cognitive difficulties can also arise due to the patient’s age or other health problems.
Ten Tips for Combating Chemo Brain
1. Make Daily ‘To Do’ lists: Keep checklists of important things that need to be accomplished each day
2. Embrace Technology: use reminders on your cell phone and/or computer to help you remember important appointments, birthdays, projects, etc.
3. Stop Multi-Tasking: Focusing on one thing at a time will help you remember important details.
4. Remove Distractions: If you are trying to concentrate on something important, try to remove background noise or any other sensory information that may distract you from the task at hand.
5. Exercise: Getting blood flowing to the brain helps to improve memory and decreases stress.
6. Get adequate sleep: Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the brain. If you are having trouble sleeping, please seek medical help.
7. Practice Mindfulness: Yoga and Meditation can help your ability to pay attention to detail. These types of practices teach you how to focus your attention. They can also help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
8. Seek treatment for depression and/or anxiety: If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, please let your medical team know. Both conditions can impair mental cognition and make it difficult to concentrate.
9. Exercise your brain: There is evidence that some brain training may help counter the effects of cancer on memory and brain function. (Read more HERE)
10. Focus: Repeat information out loud and write down important details.
In addition to these tips, seek help from your family and from your medical provider. Remember, most symptoms of chemo brain do not last a long time. For more long lasting, bothersome problems, using a variety of techniques to augment memory can be very helpful.