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Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, and cancer itself, may cause mild cognitive impairments, including problems with thinking, memory, language skills, learning, and concentration. Chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction is known as “chemobrain” among cancer patients. Some symptoms of chemobrain include memory problems, difficulty thinking clearly, difficulty processing information, inability to focus or concentrate, and mental cloudiness or foggy-headedness.
Since cognitive changes vary from person to person, an individual assessment is an important first step in ruling out other conditions and developing appropriate intervention strategies. Medications for depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dementia are being investigated for their potential to improve thinking and memory problems in cancer patients. Your doctor may also recommend behavioral strategies, lifestyle alterations, rehabilitation therapies, and counseling.
Tips for Coping with Cognitive Dysfunction
- Establish a daily routine and keep the same schedule each day.
- Create an organized environment that is free of clutter.
- When you need to complete tasks that require concentration, try to minimize distractions.
- Work and read in a quiet, uncluttered environment.
- Make a checklist, or a “to-do” list, of daily chores, errands and important things to remember (e.g., grocery list, medication schedules).
- Write your appointments in a calendar
- Carry a personal organizer and/or notebook with you.
- Place post-it notes around your house and workplace, or leave yourself voice mail messages as reminders.
- To sharpen your memory, try to learn a new skill, take a class, or do crossword puzzles (e.g., Sodoku puzzles) or other games.
- Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, maintain a proper diet, and manage your stress.
- Keep a daily journal to track changes in your thinking, memory and behavior, including when symptoms began, what time of day they occur, and what influences them throughout the day. Share this information with your doctor.
- Share your experiences with others (e.g., friends, family, other cancer survivors).