8 Tips For Battling Chemo Brain

by Brian English

The fogginess. The forgetfulness. The feeling of cluelessness. That’s chemo brain , one of the most frustrating side effects of cancer treatment. There’s even an official name for it – bet you didn’t know that. It’s called “Post-Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment.”

Chemo Brain

Of course, cancer patients probably have some more colorful ways to describe the condition, but it wouldn’t be polite to print those here.

One of the problems with chemo brain is that because it’s been given a familiar name, those who don’t suffer from it can believe it’s similar to having a so-called “senior moment – a cutesy way for older people to make light of slight lapses in memory.

But there’s nothing cutesy about chemo brain; it’s real.

Blogger Deanna Pai described the condition in New York Magazine, bluntly describing her bout with chemo brain as “sudden stupidity.” At first, she thought she was losing her mind.

“Before long, the weird stuff began happening all the time. I lost my oven mitt in my 400-square-foot apartment. (It was in the garbage.) I poured boiling water into my bottle of multivitamins instead of the mug I’d readied,” Pai remembers. “Another day, I toted my yoga mat halfway to the office before I wondered why I was dragging a yoga mat to the office.”

Yoga Mat

Not all cases are this extreme, but that overall feeling of forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and struggling with multitasking and details which descend on you from seemingly out of nowhere after your treatments begin … they’re unnerving. So even though patients have a familiar name to it, it’s something that they struggle with.

Worst of all, chemo brain doesn’t end when chemo treatments stop. It takes time for the brain to bounce back. Depending on the person, it can take from three months to a full year after your last treatment for the effects of chemo brain to vanish completely. Many patients are still wrestling with the condition six months after treatments end. For up to 20% of patients, the chemo brain’s effects can drag on long term.

Because of this, finding ways to cope with and overcome chemo brain is crucial. And both doctors and patients have been working on ways to do just this. Good news: some solutions are easier than you think!

Here are eight tips to help you battle through that chemo brain fog:

Just by reading this, you’re helping to keep chemo brain at bay. Put your brain to work and it will keep you sharp. And brain games are a great way to go.

Keep Your Mind Active

WhatNexter JudyW says the brain games on Lumosity (www.lumosity.com) helped her immensely. “I try to do the cycle of games daily,” she writes. “They help with concentration, focus, and flexibility of thinking.”

Exercise your mind in any way you can, be it crossword puzzles, memory games (ironic, huh?), learning a new language, or even taking a class in something that interests you. You might find these games helpful in keeping your mind sharp.

By now you’re probably tired of this advice, but as with so much cancer recovery, remaining physically active is crucial. You don’t need to be a power lifter; just a simple walk can do the trick.

Keep Your Body Active

“I play agility with my dogs,” writes LiveWithCancer on the WhatNext forum. “I have to learn relatively complex courses, hold them in my head, and then, after some time, direct my dogs through the obstacles. I believe this has helped keep my chemo brain from getting worse than it already is.”

Dr. Marc Berman, director of the Neuroscience Laboratory at University of Chicago says that studies show exposing yourself to nature on a short walk in the park can be more helpful than you think. “Interacting with natural environments could help to restore attentional abilities, particularly for those under mental fatigue,” he says.


Eating Well

Again, this is nothing you haven’t heard before. A better diet can have a major impact on mood and mental acuity. Concentrate on brain-boosting foods with plenty of antioxidants. Beneficial fruits include berries, cherries, and apples. Eggs and oily fish also help. Best of all, flavonol-rich cocoa boosts circulating and blood flow to the brain, so go ahead and munch on that bar of chocolate. 

Cancer and Nutrition Books  


How To Get A Better Nights Sleep

Another easy one. Since part of chemo brain is rooted in mental fatigue, give your mind the rest that it needs. You’ve been through a lot – your brain needs as much of a break as your body. Be sure to log those Z’s.


Lists Keep Calm

Lists will become your friends. Use them often – and don’t be ashamed to do so. Get yourself a notebook (aka “memory book”) and write everything down: your medication schedule, dates and times of appointments, phone numbers … anything and everything.

“I make reminder notes, use a calendar, set timers to remind myself about the next step of a task,” writes WhatNexter TXHills. “Make lists of what needs done and try to relax and have a sense of humor about it.”

Chemo brain puts a serious dent in your ability to multitask. The solution? Cut down on the number of tasks you need to focus on. This includes distractions in your environment. Turn off the television or radio when you’re having a conversation, reading, or writing.

This is the physical version of keeping lists. Try to do things at the same time every day as much your treatments permit. Get up at the same time each day (but don’t forget to still get plenty of #4). Eat meals at the same time each day.

It’s less about repetition, but more about creating things that your mind can rely on each day. This kind of structure will be an aid to your ability to focus.

Remember what your mom used to say: “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” It’s a great way to combat chemo brain. By organizing your environment, you can minimize potential chemo brain-induced confusion.

Get Organized Home Storage

Make sure clothes, TV remote controls, toenail clippers, cell phones, etc always – ALWAYS – get put back in the same place. So when you look for them, there they are. This is something that people without chemo brain often struggle with; don’t make the same mistake.

Do you have any tips that have helped you to cope with chemo brain? Share them with at WhatNext!

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