“Chemo-Brain” is real and is associated with cognitive impairment. I’ve struggled with it myself and found that I couldn’t do things as well or as fast as I could before my cancer treatment. Chemo-brain or brain-fog can impact memory, concentration, and the way a person thinks.
- Being forgetful
- Struggling to find the right words/names for people or objects
- Not being able to following the theme of a film, conversation or book
- Losing concentrating or focus
- Inability to multi-task
- Confusion and a feeling of being unable to think
- Mental fog
Although these changes may be described by medical practitioners as mild, the effects can vary between individuals. I personally found that this very much affected the quality of my life. I felt frustrated, angry at myself and damaged. I was scared I would never be able to function at the same level again. What I can positively tell you ladies – is that it’s those who unfortunately notice it the most that are also the ones who generally function at a high level, and have strong executive functioning skills. So, what I’m really saying is that because we’re all so clever – we’re noticing it!
These cognitive changes could be the result of a combination of factors:
- the diagnosis of cancer itself
- cancer treatments such as chemotherapy
- side-effects from treatment, such as fatigue, insomnia, or hormonal changes
- sadness, anxiety, or stress.
My Top 5 Tips to Help Manage Chemo-Brain
Exercise can help manage fatigue, aches and pains, improve mood and subsequently may also improve cognitive processing speed. I have recently invested in a Bellicon rebounder (mini-trampoline) as a fun way to exercise and improve both blood and lymph flow. Additionally, rebounding is a great way to increase bone density, strengthen muscles and the immune system. All of which get a pretty good battering during orthodox treatments. And what’s more, the Bellicon is rather beautiful – I’ve gone for the pink and blue combination. Yay!
- Brain Training
If you don’t use it – you lose it! Isn’t that what they say? Setting yourself little challenges or quizzes can be fun and a great way to exercise the brain. There’s a plethora of free or inexpensive applications available for the phone or tablet that can make this easy. Sudoku and word searches are also great. As a get-well gift, my best friend bought me a game I could play during my recovery and it helped no end.
Getting sufficient sleep is really important. It’s cool to be kind and this extends to ourselves. Be kind and take the time and rest you need, even if that means a nap in the day. Managing fatigue can assist concentration and in turn cognitive function. Learn more about how to get a better night’s rest.
- Eat Well
Nutrition is key when considering your overall wellbeing and it can help mitigate the effects of chemo-brain. Cutting down (or avoiding) foods that increase inflammation, such as sugar, alcohol and dairy can be helpful. I supplemented with Gingko biloba following my active cancer treatment. I found it really helpful. I also took maca, matcha green tea and a host of other superfoods and vitamins which help to nourish and repair the body. Read about medicinal mushrooms and how they can boost the immune system.
- Use Technology
We are in a digital age – and although sometimes I’m reluctant to accept this, I do love how technology can enable us. The use of calendars, lists and reminders can alleviate the stress of trying to remember appointments, events or things you need to do. Use what works best for you – an app on your phone, a digital recorder, or good old fashioned sticky post-it notes.
Most of all, it important not to be too down on yourself. Give yourself time and space to heal and recover. Stress and worry only exacerbate symptoms of chemo-brain – which can be reversed.