7 ways to kick chemo brain

June 01, 2016 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

If you’re having difficulty remembering dates, times, names, locations and even the words to finish your sentence, you aren’t alone. Many of us have this problem daily. If you are being treated for cancer or have recently finished treatment, you have a good excuse — chemo brain.

Chemo brain can happen anytime during cancer treatments like chemo and radiation, and cause memory and thinking problems. Since we all react to treatment differently, many factors can contribute to these cognitive issues, such as medications, stress, nutritional deficiencies, sleep patterns and tiredness or other disorders.

Also known as chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction, chemo brain is characterized by loss of memory, the inability to multi-task and difficulty concentrating on a particular subject.  

Other signs and symptoms of chemo brain can include:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Mental fog and a feeling of disorientation
  • Processing information slower
  • Problems understanding
  • Feeling of confusion
  • Misplacing objects

Recent studies show there is no way to prevent the side effects of chemo brain, but fortunately side effects are usually mild and disappear in time.

No one likes to feel like their head is in a cloud. With a few essential tips, chemo brain can be managed through everyday activities and lifestyle choices:

  1. Exercise your brain to keep your mind sharp. Puzzles and mental exercises like riddles, brain teasers, Sudoku and crossword puzzles can sharpen your memory.
  2. Take care of your body by eating healthy, drinking plenty of liquids and staying active. A balanced diet can help reduce mental fatigue. Exercise keeps your blood moving and oxygen pumping to your brain so you feel more alert.
  3. Keep your stress level down. Stress adds additional pressure to your mind and body. Stress can also impair your critical thinking skills. If you are feeling overwhelmed, listen to music or take part in your favorite hobby to keep your mind clear.
  4. Get organized! Use your smart phone, tablet, daily planner or a pen and a piece of paper to write down your daily chores and activities. Even if you think you will remember your to-do list, it is always helpful to reference a handy checklist.
  5. Avoid multi-tasking. Focus your mind on one activity at a time and minimize distractions.
  6. Talk with your healthcare team. Speak up about your symptoms. Simple changes in medications can make a difference in how you feel.
  7. Share your experience with others. Be open with your family about what’s going on and consider joining a support group. It can bring you peace of mind knowing others are going through the same experiences. 

How do you stay on task to reduce chemo brain? Tell us in the below comments!

Find a cancer support group.


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