What is chemo brain? – the proper terminology is Cognitive Impairment.
During chemotherapy and sometimes after treatment has finished some people find it difficult to concentrate or feel more forgetful. This is sometimes referred to as ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog’.
It usually improves over time after treatment has finished but it can be very frustrating and have a big impact on daily life.
Although it’s commonly called ‘chemo brain’, some people with cancer will experience changes to their memory and concentration even if they don’t have chemotherapy. This is why your treatment team is more likely to call it cognitive impairment, cognitive dysfunction or cancer-related cognitive change.
It isn’t known exactly what causes changes to memory and concentration following cancer treatment and more research is needed in to finding the cause.
Symptoms can include short- term memory loss, finding it difficult to find every day words or forgetting the names of familiar things and finding it difficult to remember things to name but a few. These can affect your daily functioning and cause you to question what you are doing.
‘Chemo Brain’ affect me on a daily basis and to be honest I get really frustrated. I can concentrate and focus and continue to do my job well but sometimes when I am talking about things I will forget simple words or names of things or struggle to get my words out. I will go to do something and literally as soon as I move to do it I will forget what I am meant to be doing. People laugh and I do too to cover up my frustration and embarrassment by saying ‘Oh it chemo brain!’
This is my third time going through Cancer but this time my memory and ‘chemo brain’ has had a much bigger effect on me. Some say it can be age related and things like the menopause can make it worse but as I mentioned there is no real known cause why it happens and who it affects.
There is no treatment or ‘medication’ you can take to help the symptoms. There are things you can do like keep a diary or set reminders for things on your phone. Relaxation and practicing mindfulness can help as if you are stressed or anxious this can also have an adverse effect but in the cases like myself forgetting the name of an item or not being able to get my words out there is nothing that can help except allowing myself some more ‘thinking’ time and asking people to give me a moment. I get frustrated and sometimes annoyed at myself and I have found that the more I try and the more I rush my thinking it makes it worse, especially if I am mid conversation with someone.
So if you happen to be talking to me and I look a bit vague or pause – just give me a minute!! I always get there eventually!!