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Chemobrain: how chemotherapy affects the brain

Remember where we left the keys or the bag, follow the thread of a conversation or simply remember what the movie we just saw was going to … During and after the end of chemotherapy treatment , memory may be affected. This explains what experts have dubbed the phenomenon of c hemobrain . Technically, it is a cognitive deficit or decrease in neuropsychological functioning derived from chemotherapeutic treatments . Hence the term that, in Spanish, literally means ‘chemo-brain’.

Specifically, we talk about a deterioration of memory, attention and concentration, learning, reasoning, executive function and visospatial skills.

Chemotherapy side effects in the brain

First, it should be clarified that, when talking about chemobrain we refer to a set of cognitive side effects associated with treatment, not to the type of cancer. It is true that, due to the nature of the treatments used, it usually appears more frequently in hematological tumors colon or lung . However, it is in the breast tumor that the effect of chemotherapy toxicity on the brain is best known.

In this regard, there is proven evidence ( Journal of Clinical Oncology) that there are several chemotherapeutic drugs that affect the central nervous system stem cells. Although other factors such as hormonal therapy, emotional distress, aging, fatigue, sleep disturbances or menopause can also influence.

In any case, it is a mild side effect that It only occurs between 15-50% of cases and, in most patients, the survival benefit of chemotherapy far exceeds the possible associated risks.

Chemo Brain symptoms: difficulty concentrating

Main symptoms of chemobrain : memory problems and concentration

The effects produced by the phenomenon Chemobrain are mainly:

  • Reversible memory loss.

    • 19659011] Difficulty finding the specific word to define a situation or object.
    • Problems to follow a conversation fluidly.
    • Difficulty concentrating.
    • Trouble to be able to carry out different tasks at the same time, fatigue, confusion (what is known as 'mental fog' or some daze).

    Therefore, in case you notice any of those symptoms in some familiar or in yourself, we advise you to consult your oncologist or a neurology specialist or neuropsychologist. If you also need medical advice, support or help, you can also go to our free Infocáncer service. A team of volunteers and professionals will try to help you in any way they can.

    Treatment for chemobrain

    The studies are inconclusive. But, in general, and following the recommendations for rehabilitation and treatment, it can be improved.

    For most patients the symptoms disappear, or improve greatly, after completing treatment, but, in some cases, they can remain long-term and extend for years (much less frequent).

    This can be followed by certain recommendations that help improve symptoms. Some of them, such as keep the mind active, perform regular physical activity and cognitive stimulation (activities such as reading, hobbies that force thinking or playing cards), are the most recommended.

    our online workshop ' Cognitive stimulation: phenomenon chemobrain ', the AECC psycho-oncologist and neuropsychologist offers some mental gymnastic guidelines that help reduce its impact.

    What can you do to reduce the effects?

    On many occasions the patient may feel distressed. For this reason, it is advisable to follow some recommendations to minimize the consequences of this side effect:

    • Perform a daily planning of the activity with reminders. One trick, for example, is to plan the tasks you have to perform in different steps . This helps us, on the one hand, not to forget anything and, on the other, to learn that task as a habit.
    • Exercise the brain . Crosswords, word searches, mazes … Any activity that allows you to stay active.
    • Get plenty of rest and get enough sleep .
    • Carry out some kind of physical activity.
    • Take care of power . Take fruits and vegetables; since their intake is related to the conservation of cognitive abilities as they age.
    • Establishes and follows routines. Avoid distractions .

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    Tips to reduce the effects of Chemo Brain: exercise memory
    • Ask for the people who repeat the information and ask for help if you need it.
    • Paste reminders in visible places. Also it is useful to keep an agenda or have a blackboard with post-it where to write down the routines with the specific schedule for each one.
    • Get organized . Try not to perform different tasks at the same time.
    • Exercise memory. Use mnemonic resources (use formulas or rhymes that help you remember).
    • Manage stress.
    • Decrease self-demand and consider your level of fatigue and tiredness.
    • It is also helpful for you to perform a task that is pleasing to you after the routines it takes to execute. Improve motivation to reinforce what you have already done and achieve a certain degree of motivation.

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