Has cancer made you feel like you are losing your mind?

By Patricia Barrett-Robillard on May 5 / 2017

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching]Comments

Woman in a stylish knitted cape and scarf combination walking along a misty winter road away from the camera in an healthy outdoor active lifestyle concept

CANCER-RELATED BRAIN FOG  is one of the TOP THREE concerns of people experiencing cancer (the others are fatigue and fear of recurrence).  

Symptoms of Brain Fog can include difficulty with:

  • maintaining attention, concentrating, focusing on or completing tasks
  • remembering things, including details like names and dates  
  • multi-tasking
  • keeping your train of thought while talking
  • math, organizational, and language skills. This includes tasks such as not being able to organize      thoughts, find the right word during a conversaton, or balance a checkbook
  • coordination and balance
  • changes in mood, self esteem and self confidence  

Even small changes to your brain functioning can have a big impact on your quality of life.    

The causes of brain fog are not certain but could include: changes from the cancer itself, a side effect of treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy), other medications such as anti-nausea medications, pain medication, antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety or sleeping medications.  Cancer survivors also can experience high levels of fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression, all which can impact brain function.  

THERE IS HOPE!  

In most cases, brain fog will eventually go away but there are things you can do to make that happen more quickly.  A Cancer Coach can work with you to help you develop a plan to improve your brain fog.  

Strategies that improve brain fog include:

Using memory aids and devices to help you  remember things and keep you on track.  Using kitchen/oven timers, the timer on your cell phone, etc. will help keep you on track and prevent frustrating mistakes.  Regular use of calenders and lists will make sure you remember things.  Using your smart phone to take a picture of things you need to remember like where you parked your car will decrease your stress.  All of these memory aids will save space in your brain to help you better concentrate on the tasks you need to do.  

Creating regular routines and habits.  The more automatic we can make tasks, the less strain on our brain!  Have a place by the door for your cell phone, keys, purse, wallet, etc. and always put those things there when you get home.  Attach new things you need to remember such as a new medication to an already established routine, such as your morning coffee, brushing you teeth, etc.  

Planning and organizing your day.  Set yourself up for success!  The more you can plan for ahead of time, the less pressure and stress you will feel.  Take time the night before to go over your next day, review anything you need to bring with you, missing information you still need, such as directions, parking instructions, etc.  Act on any thoughts you have for example if you remember you need to bring an item with you, take 30 seconds to put it in the car or by the door.  

A healthy lifestyle can improve thinking abilities. Physical exercise helps the body, mind and brain. It improves cognitive functioning and helps overall mood. Eating healthy foods helps with maintaining physical and mental well-being.  Getting enough sleep and feeling well-rested will make it easier to concentrate, learn, and remember.  

Avoiding multitasking and being more present-minded.  Try to focus on one task at at time and complete it before starting another one whenever possible.  Regular meditation has been shown to improve mood and decrease stress.  Going for a walk in nature, listening to music, doing activities you enjoy all can help you relax and decrease brain fatigue.

Telling your loved ones and your employer what you are going through.  Tell your family, so that they’ll understand if you forget things you normally wouldn’t forget. They may be able to help and encourage you. Talk with your employer if you are having problems at work. Discuss ways your employer could support you, such as changing your workload or deadlines.  For more information go to https://www.cancerandwork.ca/

Coping with brain fog can be an unexpected and challenging side effect of a diagnosis of cancer.  You do not have to manage this on your own.  Cancer coaches can work with you to develop a personalized plan to decrease  your brain fog and improve your quality of life.  Twice a year, we also offer Maximum Capacity’s Coping with Brain Fog 8 week program at our centre.  

References:

Bernstein, L 2014 “Cancer-related brain fog: Information for cancer patients and caregivers about cancer-related brain fog.  University Health Network, Toronto http://www.uhn.ca/PatientsFamilies/Health_Information/Health_Topics/Documents/Cancer_Related_Brain_Fog.pdf

CancerCare 2016 Coping with chemobrain:  keeping your memory sharp.  http://www.cancercare.org/publications/70-coping_with_chemobrain_keeping_your_memory_sharp

Cancer.Net 2016 “Attention, thinking and memory problems”  http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/attention-thinking-or-memory-problems

Cancer Research Uk 2015 What is chemo brain? http://www.uhn.ca/PatientsFamilies/Health_Information/Health_Topics/Documents/Cancer_Related_Brain_Fog.pdf

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