Chemo Brain

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly."
~ Buddha

What is it?

Chemo brain is defined as “post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment".   It is also described as having a lack of mental crispness or being in a mental fog.

The symptoms of chemo brain can include:

Chemo brain can be further complicated by a patient’s use of medications, menopause, hormone replace therapy, hormone cessation therapy, radiation, surgery (anesthesia), fatigue, anemia and nutritional deficiencies.  It can also be exacerbated by anxiety, sleep disorders and depression.

Symptoms can begin with your first chemo treatment and last for many months and sometimes years after.

Conventional Wisdom:

Because there are so many possible factors influencing and contributing to the development of chemo brain, there is no simple solution.  Cognitive behaviour therapy could possibly help as well as a myriad of coping strategies.  Drugs may be prescribed for sleeping disorders and depression.    Treatment is available for blood and nutritional deficiencies.   

Chemo brain usually resolves with the cessation of chemotherapy treatment but how long it takes to resolve is indefinable.

If you experience severe memory loss and concentration issues, have difficulty performing simple tasks and remembering instructions, you need to discuss these issues with your doctor.  Bring a list of the problems you’ve been experiencing along with a list of your current medications to your next appointment.

Self Help:
  1. Exercise your brain! Do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble, try Sudoko or other numbers games - read.
  2. Keep a journal.
  3. Write things down - use calendars, planners and lists.
  4. Practice relaxation techniques - stress can contribute to memory and concentration problems.
  5. Take frequent breaks. Divide tasks into manageable portions.
  6. Exercise your body. Get those positive endorphins flowing to counteract fatigue and depression which contribute to a sluggish brain.
  7. Get enough rest.
  8. Ask for help - telling others about your difficulties lightens the load. Talk therapy works.
  9. Make sure you are hydrated - 2-3 litres (8 to 12 cups) of liquids per day during chemo.
  10. Eat your veggies - proper nutrition feeds you and your brain!
  11. Ask your doctor about taking Vitamin E and Ginkgo, said to be helpful for chemo brain.
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We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.