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Tips for managing cancer-related brain fog

One of the most common complaints you hear from patients getting chemotherapy is brain fog. It's why it's most commonly known as "chemo brain". But what is it and why does it happen? And most importantly, how can it be managed?

Cancer-related brain fog is the feeling you get when your mind is hazy or cloudy. You can't quite concentrate like you used to, you have difficulty remember things that occurred recently, or multi-tasking has become more challenging. It's easy to be hard on yourself about these mental changes.

While it's most commonly known as a side effect of chemotherapy, many patients who don't get chemo complain of similar symptoms. There's no definitive explanation for what causes it. If you haven't received chemo it could be caused by other drugs you're taking, the cancer itself, fatigue, low blood count, stress or hormone changes, just to name a few.

It's important to give yourself time to heal. Over time, most patients find that their cognitive abilities improve. But for some, symptoms can continue long after treatment ends. Here are some ways to help you manage your brain fog:

  1. Use techniques to help you remember tasks and important dates such as timers, calendars, and post-it notes.  This can help you remember day-to-day activities and assist with any short-term memory loss.
  2. When you can't think of a word you want to use, the worst thing you can do is try to keep thinking about it.  If you go on to something completely different and take some relaxing breathes, the word you were trying to think of will pop back into your mind.
  3. Write things down. Try keeping a journal where you can write down important thoughts you'd like to remember.
  4. The more you challenge your brain, the better. Puzzles, crosswords and reading can help improve and strengthen your brain.
  5. Become more systematic in your daily routine. A regular routine, like taking your pills at the same time every day can help remember what you've done or still need to do.
  6. Take advantage of the more lucid times to organize and set up for the times when thinking is more difficult and less reliable.
  7. Get enough sleep and try to avoid looking at your phone right before bed.
  8. Try speech language therapy or occupational therapy with a specialty in chemo brain. Therapists specializing in cognitive improvements can teach you additional effective strategies to help improve your memory.
  9. Sign up for mindfulness meditation classes. Meditation can help you focus your thoughts and improve your attention.

Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash