It’s not just your imagination if you find yourself feeling forgetful, foggy or even flaky during or after undergoing chemotherapy. Chemo brain is a very real side effect many people experience following cancer treatment.
This cognitive impairment or dysfunction –sometimes called chemo fog—can be extremely frustrating and even debilitating. While researchers are actively working to pinpoint the cause and find ways to help avoid it, you don’t have to simply learn to live with chemo brain. Learn what you can start doing right now to deal with it more effectively.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Studies show that reducing stress using mindfulness techniques can improve cognitive impairment brought on by cancer treatment. Taking a yoga class, learning guided relaxation techniques and even prayer or meditation might boost your memory, increase your concentration and even help you sleep more soundly.
2. Get Physical
Exercise may improve cognitive processing speed and help clear the fogginess of chemo brain. Find a physical activity you enjoy, such as swimming, walking with a friend or riding an exercise bike while watching your favorite shows and get moving.
3. Train Your Brain
Brain exercises should definitely be on your to do list. Don’t worry; this is not as difficult as it might sound. In fact, it can be fun! Look for apps, word games, card games or other fun pastimes that challenge your brain.
Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep at night. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks to put up your feet or nap during the day. Fighting fatigue can help enhance your cognitive abilities and give you the energy you need to focus.
5. Eat Well
A nutritious diet is an important part of your overall wellness and it can potentially offset chemo fog, as well. Some experts recommend cutting foods that increase inflammation, such as sugar, alcohol and dairy.
6. Follow Routines
Establishing and sticking to a schedule can help you cope with chemo brain because you don’t have to expend as much mental energy thinking about what to do and when. Get into the habit of performing everyday tasks at the same time and in the same order.
7. Utilize Tools
Calendars, lists and reminders can alleviate the stress of trying to remember appointments, events or responsibilities you need to handle. Use the method that works best for you, such as a paper calendar, an app on your phone or a dry erase board.
8. One Thing at a Time
Multitasking is especially difficult when you are struggling with chemo fog. Rather than trying to deal with several things at once and becoming overwhelmed, focus on completing the task at hand before taking up anything else.
Stress and anxiety can diminish cognitive ability, so it is especially important to eliminate it when you are fighting chemo brain. Practice relaxation techniques. Take time out for activities that you enjoy. Seek counseling or medical attention for help with persistent anxiety or depression.
10. Ask for Help
Your partner, children or coworkers can help you with reminders. Your employer or teacher may be willing to reduce your workload or give you extra time on assignments that take a great deal of concentration. Your doctor or cancer care team may be able to help you identify issues and offer solutions to reduce the effects of chemo brain, as well. You are not in this alone.
And remember, when all else fails, there is always a way to find humor in our challenges! Wearing a Chemo Brain t-shirt will put a smile on your face and that of those around you and provide you with a good excuse for those forgetful moments!