Friday, July 16, 2010

Chemo Brain

Chemo brain - some people call it brain fog, cancer fog - whatever, I was warned about it and laughed it off. Well, it happens - at least I'm choosing to use chemo brain as an excuse for what I'm going thru lately.

I sometimes have trouble completing a sentence. Start to speak and have absolutely no idea what I was going to say. Simply can't make a decision. Can't sort out information or organize my thoughts. Sometimes it's funny - most often it's just plain embarrassing!

In reading up on chemo brain, it's politely called 'a sense of cognitive loss' - the feeling that your mental abilities are slower and less acute than before. Problems with memory and concentration are most common, difficulty following directions, finding the right words, multi-tasking seems impossible. That's me!!

About 20-50% of cancer patients are affected - some for months or even years after treatment. Ducky!

Causes are somewhat unclear. Drugs affect the balance of chemicals and hormones in the brain and certainly contribute to 'cognitive loss.' Fatigue, depression, stress or anxiety can contribute to the problem. Inflammation is also a potential cause of chemo brain. Cancer and chemo trigger the release of cytokines, proteins that signal the immune system and cause inflammation.

Hormonal treatments, something I have to look forward to when the chemo treatments are complete, affect cognitive function also. As does anemia, one of the results of the chemo that I'm currently trying to deal with.

Depression, stressful life events, chronic pain, chronic stress, fatigue, sleep disturbance - all those are part and parcel of any cancer diagnosis and treatment. Hence - chemo brain!

So what is one to do? Like anything else, take charge of your life!
Reduce stress, often easier said than done! They suggest practicing relaxation techniques,meditation or deep breathing exercises.
Reduce cognitive load. Multi-tasking is tough - try to concentrate on the task at hand, then move on to the next one.
Learn something new and complex. The brain will grow new cells and make new connections when it's challenged!
Practice cognitive skills. There are programs and games the train specific attention and memory skills. I do lots of games and puzzles.
Exercise. It always reduces stress, fatigue and improves depression.
Eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep. Chocolate!

And hope that your friends don't tease you too much when you make silly mistakes!

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