Chemobrain: Lost In the Fog

Tips for Coping with Cognitive Dysfunction After Chemotherapy
Patient Education Facilitator
Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 8:00am

Chemobrain or chemo fog is well known by cancer patients, but for years researchers struggled to find evidence of its existence. Today, it is widely recognized as a legitimate, diagnosable condition.

Chemobrain affects mental processes such as the ability to gain, store, or share knowledge or information. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), up to 75 percent of cancer patients have some kind of cognitive problem during treatment, and about 35 percent have problems that continue even after treatment ends. This mental impairment can range from annoyance to a severe decline in quality of life.

Symptoms

In most cases, cognitive issues end within 9 months of completing treatment. But if symptoms last longer, or if they get worse, contact your doctor.

  • Forgetting or confusing names, dates or steps in a task
  • Inability to think of or say the right words
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling as if you are in a mental fog (brain is sluggish and you can’t focus)
  • Losing/misplacing things
  • Short term memory loss
  • Problems with numbers/computation, judgment, reason or decision-making
  • A shorter attention span

The exact cause of chemobrain is still unknown and more research is needed to understand this condition. For now, the only solution or treatment is to manage or limit the effects. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Use your phone or tablet to keep reminders or send alerts - or carry a pad and pen. Track when you have problems and look for any common conditions - hunger, time of day, etc.
  • Use calendars to keep track of important dates, and make to do lists to remember tasks.
  • Only do one thing at a time (avoid multitasking).
  • Get quality rest and sleep. Talk to your doctor if you are struggling with fatigue or insomnia.
  • Increase physical activity such as walking, swimming or yoga. Get approval from your doctor about your appropriate physical activity level.
  • Word or math games, crossword puzzles, instruments and meditation can help sharpen and clear your mind.
  • Keep commonly used items in the same place all the time. Label drawers and cabinets.
  • If you are struggling at work, talk to your boss about making adjustments to your workload or length of your workday.
  • Talk to people who have had the same problem when they were in treatment. Roswell Park has a private online community where you can share experiences and ask questions.
  • Discuss your problems with your medical team. Bloodwork may reveal there is an issue with hormone or vitamin levels.