Restore Mental Well-Being
About 25 percent of breast cancer survivors who receive chemotherapy treatment report experiencing chemo brain as a result. Chemo brain manifests itself as trouble paying attention, trouble finding the right word, difficulty retaining information or learning and difficulty in managing daily activities.
Having any degree of this type of cognitive impairment can affect your personal and professional lives. It can affect your ability to feel comfortable socializing and being effective in your workplace.
The lack of control over your memory, concentration and thinking ability, and not being able to operate at your normal mental capacity can be quite frustrating. Such intellectual disability, otherwise known as cognitive deficit, is when you show significant limitations in your ability to think clearly, learn easily and recall simple facts and events.
In addition to the effect of chemotherapy, there may be other factors that contribute to cognitive deficits in memory loss and concentration. They are:
Currently, there are no proven treatments for cognitive deficits associated with chemotherapy. However, the best way to deal with this challenge of forgetfulness and lack of concentration is to take steps to minimize the impact of it on your daily life.
- Low blood counts
- Mental and emotional stress of coping with cancer
Take these simple steps:
Repetitive brain exercises, tracking memory-loss influences, engaging in stress-free activities and learning effective coping strategies are additional things you can do to recover from this chemotherapy side effect.
- Use a daily organizer to help you remember appointments.
- Keep a journal of daily events and activities.
- Carry a notebook, and use it to write down important information that you want to remember.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Exercise daily.
- Manage stress.
You can engage in stimulating activities such as reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing a board or card game, participating in a group discussion or meditating.
You can also engage in specific exercises that foster mental stimulation and cognitive repair. One is the "brain-fitness" program that may help breast cancer survivors deal with the cognitive dysfunction associated with chemotherapy.
Researchers from Posit Science, the company that developed brain-fitness, report that their brain-fitness" program improved the auditory speed of processing in breast cancer survivors. In a randomized controlled trial, the results of which were presented at the 28th annual National Academy of Neuropsychology Conference, 41 breast cancer survivors were able to improve their auditory speed of processing, compared with pre-training levels. Their post-training performance was also significantly faster than that of individuals in the age-matched control group.
Although the brain fitness program yielded results, helping breast cancer survivors improve cognitive deficits, it is not guaranteed to work as effectively for everyone.
In addition to mental stimulation exercises, physical activity is also effective in helping survivors overcome chemo brain. Recent studies suggest that you need a minimum of 15 minutes of physical activity each day to keep your brain fit; however, at least 30 minutes each day of the week is optimal.
Your diet can also play a role in helping you overcome the effects of chemo brain. A balanced diet
of protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates can balance the activity in the temporal lobes of the brain. Eating protein at every meal can help stabilize blood sugar levels and help prevent the brain fog that sometimes happens after high carbohydrate or high sugar meals.
The brain mainly uses carbohydrates for energy and omega-3 fatty acids for forming its cell structure. B vitamins play an essential role in brain function. In combination with folic acid, vitamins B6 and vitamin B12 help manufacture and release chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. The nervous system relies on neurotransmitters to communicate messages within the brain, such as those that regulate mood, hunger and sleep. In addition, foods rich in antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, help protect brain cells from free-radical damage.
Consuming foods that contain the following can help restore your brain function:
- Omega-3 fatty acids to improve brain activity
- Antioxidants to boost memory
- Cranberries for memory and coordination
- Sweet potatoes, beetroot and carrots for nourishment of the brain
- Kidney beans to improve cognitive function
10 foods to help boost your brain power
In addition, you can take supplements to improve memory, learning and verbal skills. Try antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin E, vitamin C and ginkgo biloba.
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is used in Ayurvedic medicine in the same way that Asian ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine. It has been helpful in correcting memory loss by modifying the way the brain uses acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells. Ashwagandha helps by keeping the brain from destroying its own cells, preventing cognitive deficit and memory loss.
You should always consult a healthcare practitioner before treating any serious medical conditions with ashwagandha tea or any supplement.
Cognitive deficits can be devastating, but the good news is that over time you will regain your memory, thinking and learning skills.
Here are some resources that might help you better understand how to overcome memory loss from chemotherapy treatment:
Lifting the Fog of Chemo Brain
Seeking Solutions to 'Chemo-Brain'
Top 6 Foods that Boost Brain Power
7 Nutrition Tips for Increasing Brain Power
Natural Tips for Improving Your Memory
Cognitive Deficits Associated with Cancer Treatment
For more information on addressing memory loss, go to Breast Cancer Partner’s Resources. You can also share your knowledge and success with other survivors in our Partner Forum or at Survivor Tips.