Managing Chemo Brain

[tips from 18 reliable sources]

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.

Plan Ahead


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.

  • Try to keep your life as simple as possible – don’t take on too much.
  • Try to do the most difficult tasks earlier in the day.
  • Lay out everything you need for the day the night before.
  • Focus, Don’t try to multi-task. Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Ask people to repeat information
  • Allow extra time to accomplish personal and professional activities. Reduce stress by giving yourself plenty of time to get to appointments and social events, and let people know that you are sometimes late.

Get Organized


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.

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Minimize Distractions

  • Ask for help when you need it. Friends and loved ones can help with daily tasks to cut down on distractions and help you save mental energy.
  • Talk to your employerEmployers are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make reasonable accommodations for health-related issues such as chemo brain. A more soundproof environment, like an office or a cubicle in a different location, can decrease distractions and improve concentration in the workplace.
  • Limit distractions. When trying to focus on a task, such as paying the bills or cooking dinner, do so in a calm, quiet environment. If possible, try to escape background noise from the TV or kids playing nearby.
  • Try to talk to people somewhere quiet with few distractions.
  • Put your phone and other unnecessary electronic devices away when working.

Exercise Your Brain

  • Exercise your brain – Keeping your mind active may help – for example, doing crosswords, sudoku, and puzzles, Take a class, learn a new language or start a new hobby.
  • Brain games through websites – Cognitive treatments including brain games through websites such as and
  • Check in with your brain. If you feel spaced-out or your mind wanders, try asking yourself every few moments, “What am I doing right now?” or “What am I thinking about?” This keeps you from drifting and helps you refocus.
  • Practice difficult tasks. If you need to tackle a complex task, you may want to practice it until it becomes very familiar.

Exercise Your Body

  • Stay physically and mentally active – Regular physical activity is not only good for your body, but also improves your mood, makes you feel more alert, and decreases tiredness (fatigue).
  • Exercise also combats fatigue, which can contribute to cognitive issues.
  • Exercise – Even 5 minutes of mild to moderate activity may improve mental function.
  • Try going for a daily walk or taking an exercise class.

Eat Well

  • Get adequate nutrition (Eat veggies) – Studies have shown that eating more vegetables is linked to memory and brain function, especially in older people. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice or refer you to a dietitian if needed.
  • Eating Well – Studies show a healthy diet packed with so-called superfoods can benefit cognitive function. Foods such as wild salmon, blueberries, kimchi, asparagus, and eggs can all increase brain power.
  • Avoid alcohol and other substances that alter cognition.

Get Plenty of Rest

  • Manage fatigue and sleep problems: These conditions can worsen chemo brain symptoms. Make sure you’re receiving treatment for any sleep problems (including sleep apnea). Make sure you also have had your thyroid, vitamin D, and B12 levels checked.
  • Get enough rest and sleep – Aim to get a good night’s sleep and rest in the day when you need to – try to avoid becoming overly tired. Beware of anything that degrades the quality of sleep, including caffeine and alcohol.

Check Red Blood Cell Counts

  • Anemia can cause cognitive issues – Ask your health care team to check your red blood cell counts if they are not doing so already.


  • Reduce stress – Stressful situations can affect everyone’s memory. Relaxation can help to reduce stress and may help to improve your memory and concentration.
  • Practice relaxation – Easing stress and elevating mood can ease symptoms.
  • Mindfulness – Some people find using mindfulness helpful. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment to try to reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
  • Do some activities that help you relax, such as listening to music or going for a walk. You could try using relaxation CDs or DVDs, or do some relaxation exercises.
  • Try not to focus on how much these symptoms bother you. Accepting the problem will help you deal with it. Try to be patient with yourself. The problem may go away with time.
  • Try to keep a positive outlook and find some humor in your “chemo-brain moments”. Ride it out—settle in for the day and watch television or funny movies.

Treatment Day

  • 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. 

Ask for Help


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.

  • Tell family, friends, and your cancer care team about it. Let them know what you’re going through. Their support and understanding can help you relax and make it easier for you to focus and process information.
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