Although there is no cancer cure officially recognized by the medical community, aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy are commonly used to combat this deadly illness.
The Big Problem With Chemotherapy
Aside from the most obvious effects i.e. hair loss, one of the major problems regarding chemotherapy is that it does not have a specific target, which puts many of our bodily organs and tissues at risk by attacking them in hopes of eradicating the cancer in the process.
Have You Heard of “Chemo Brain”?
Your brain, the most complex organ in your body, is not immune to the effects of chemotherapy.
A 2008 study in the Journal of Biology identified acute and chronic effects of short-term chemotherapy on cognitive function that persist even after treatment has ended, with some patients never fully recovering from these effects. This is called, “chemo brain.”
Cancer patients were found to have problems retrieving memories, reasoning, problem solving and planning and executing. 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), (an agent widely used to treat cancers such as breast and colon cancers,) damages myelin, a compound around nerves that increases the speed of nerve signal transmission.
The permanent effects that chemotherapy can have on the brain devastate patients who try to return to their academic, occupational and/or social activities but cannot because their brains simply don’t function the way they used to anymore.
Symptoms of Chemo Brain
We all forget things from time to time, but If you or someone you know has undergone chemotherapy, the following symptoms would most likely occur, sometimes in a more severe form:
- Forgetting things you should have no problem remembering
- Struggling to concentrate
- Struggling to remember details such as names, dates and addresses
- Having trouble multitasking
- Taking longer to do things
- Having trouble remembering common words
Coping With Chemo Brain
If you suffer from this illness, there are day-to-day things that you can do to help you get through your day:
- Use a daily planner to keep track of what you need to do.
- Take a class to exercise your brain or play brain improvement games such as those found on lumosity.
- Include physical activity into your day; it will improve your mood and make you feel more alert.
- Incorporate more veggies in your diet. They are great for overall brain health.
- Set up and follow routines. Your brain will have less to remember if it is use to doing the same things at the same times each day.
- Avoid multitasking. Even those without chemo brain can benefit from focusing on one thing at a time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can decrease mental task and distractions if friends or loved ones can help you get things done.
- Track your memory problems. Keeping a diary of when you take your medicines or when your memory is the worst will help you plan the best times for appointments, and important conversations. This can also help your doctor find the best treatments for you.
- Try to be positive. Don’t focus on frustrating your symptoms are. Your mood has a big impact on the way that your brain processes information.
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