You’re not stupid or crazy! chemo brain is a side effect you can learn to manage. We’ve collected tips from reputable websites such as Cancer Research UK, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic and Canadian Cancer Society etc, on coping with chemo brain.
The symptoms of chemo brain are usually temporary and often get better with time. But for some people, symptoms can continue for years after treatment. There are a number of things you can do to help yourself.
There is no “quick fix” for chemo-brain. It is important to be creative and incorporate things into your daily life that can help combat the symptoms.
Set up a routine – Organization is important when facing memory problems. Having a daily routine or keeping a daily schedule can help you focus and stay on track.
Use a “memory station,” – Pick a certain place for commonly lost objects. Meaning always place important items, like keys, in the same place. Put a basket near the front door for those items you need every day- cell phone, keys, wallet, etc.
Use memory aids (e.g., smartphone, day planner or calendar) – You might want to keep track of appointments and schedules, “to do” lists, important dates, websites, phone numbers, and addresses, meeting notes, and even movies you’d like to see or books you’d like to read.
Track your memory problems. Keep a diary of when you notice problems and what’s going on at the time. Medicines taken, time of day, and the situation you’re in might help you figure out what affects your memory. You might notice that tiredness or hunger have an effect. Being aware of this can help you plan your day.
Trouble remembering names? Think of a silly thing to jog that memory- I remember my neighbor Rena’s name by thinking Xena Warrior Princess. Sounds silly, but I never forgot her name again!
Create a daily task list – Write lists what you need to do, things you need to buy and where you have left important things.
Keep a pad in the kitchen for a shopping list. When you see something is running low add it right away.
Trouble remembering something is cooking? Get into the habit of setting a timer. This is also a great use for your smartphone!
Use Post-it® – It might be helpful to write yourself notes and stick them up where you can see them.
Leave your cell phone on your nightstand.
Use labels for storage areas and boxes.
Use a detailed daily planner or your smartphone – Set audible alerts, such as the alarm on your smartphone or watch, for reminders.
Track your medications and use a weekly pill box.
Ask your pharmacist for a dosing aid (e.g. a dosette box) to help you organize your medications according to when they should be taken each day. These come in various forms and you or your carer will need to fill this daily or weekly.
Set an alarm to remind yourself to take your medications.
Before your appointment, write a list of questions and things you want to talk about. Take them to your appointment along with your memory tracking log to talk over with your doctor. Ask what may be causing the problems, and find out if there’s anything the doctor can offer to help you.
You could ask if you can record conversations with your doctor if you think this might help.
Take a friend or family member with you to help you keep track of what’s said during the visit. Ask a family member or friend to help you remember by listening, taking notes and asking questions at appointments. They can also describe the changes they see if the doctor wants a different viewpoint of how your brain problems are affecting you.
Proofread everything he writes down. One way that the fuzzy thinking of chemo brain drives people crazy is that it causes them to make silly spelling and grammar mistakes, such as leaving out words. Have him proofread everything he writes, or offer to read it for him. You want it to be clear for others and to you if you need to refer to it later.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you think you have cognitive impairment and you are finding it difficult. They might be able to refer you to a specialist to help you. Doctors are now looking at medications that treat other illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and ADD, to see if they may be successful in minimizing the effects of Chemo Brain.
Ritalin® – Ritalin can help improve mental focus, concentration and stamina in cancer patients.
Chemo brain is often less obvious than other side effects of treatment, so you may need to explain how you are feeling and how it’s affecting you.
1. Chemo Brain. Mesothelioma.com. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
2. Coping | Cancer in general | Cancer Research UK. About-cancer.cancerresearchuk.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
3. Chemo Brain. Cancer.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
4. Chemobrain. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
5. Tips for Managing Chemobrain – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute | Boston, MA. Dana-farber.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
6. ‘Chemo brain’ | Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. Llscanada.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
7. Chemo brain – Information and support – Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan.org.uk. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
8. Chemo brain – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. Mayoclinic.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
9. Cognitive Dysfunction (‘Chemo Brain’) | OncoLink. Oncolink.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
10. Cognitive changes and chemotherapy – Canadian Cancer Society. www.cancer.ca. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
11. Cognitive impairment (chemo brain). Breast Cancer Care. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
12. Mauney M, King D, Mauney M, King D. Chemo Brain: Side Effect of Mesothelioma Treatment. Mesothelioma Center – Vital Services for Cancer Patients & Families. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
13. The ‘Chemobrain’ Phenomenon in Breast Cancer | Lifespan. Lifespan.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
14. How to combat chemo brain. Piedmont.org. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
15. Cancer Side Effects: Tips for Managing Chemo Brain | PearlPoint Nutrition Services. PearlPoint Nutrition Services. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
16. Clearing the Mind: Coping with “chemobrain.” University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
17. Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas – Chemo Brain. Bhset.net. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.
18. 521-Memory changes and chemotherapy (chemo brain) | eviQ. Eviq.org.au. Published 2018. Accessed July 21, 2018.