Chemobrain - Tips for Survivors, Family and Friends

October 1, 2010 11:35:01 AM PDT
Many cancer survivors suffer from "chemobrain," struggling with memory and concentration. But survivors, their families and friends can adopt strategies to manage the effects of this condition, which can persist for years after finishing chemotherapy.

Here are tips on dealing with chemobrain from Gabriela E. Höhn, Ph.D.

Click here for a printable PDF tip sheet

If you are experiencing problems with memory, write it down! You can get a memory log, book or even a tape recorder to keep track of appointments, instructions, tasks and other information. Make checklists for groceries, errands and phone calls, and try to keep items like keys or purses in the same place every day. When trying to remember something, use visualization to "see" the object in your mind, and remind yourself of the context (i.e. what you were doing).

If you experience problems with attention and concentration, take one thing at a time! Try establishing daily routines and minimizing distractions. Ask others not to interrupt you while performing a task, and don't interrupt yourself by switching back & forth between activities! Take advantage of times when at your best mentally (early morning, late afternoon, etc.).

Should you have difficulty planning, keep it simple! Organize your home and work, and use computer calendars and cell phones to set up reminders. Don't over-schedule and get help if you need it. Prepare in advance and break large projects into smaller chunks.

If you are having trouble with everyday thinking, check again and ask for help! Exercise both your body and your mind. Be patient with yourself and find a support system. Keep your sense of humor!

Click here for a printable PDF tip sheet

Communicate & talk with your loved one about what she is experiencing.

Understanding & accepting the symptoms of chemobrain and how it can affect your loved one prevents the survivor from thinking she's "going crazy."

Repetition is a great way to aid short-term memory.

Be prepared for emotion. There may be times when your loved one has episodes of anger, sadness, or tearfulness. While you can't make cancer or its side effects disappear, it's a good time to be loving & present, not try to solve problems.

Changes in physical appearance due to breast cancer & its treatment can produce emotional reactions & feelings of self-consciousness, so be sensitive.

Life goes on - so live and laugh! Continue to follow your normal routine as much as possible, being sensitive to her needs, while balancing your own needs & responsibilities.

Learn to adapt, so you accept "the new normal;" avoid dwelling on how things were before, & focus on how to make the present better.

Negotiate & discuss ways to accommodate your loved one's memory or attention problems. It may mean that some activities need to be curtailed, at least for a while, or friends or family members may need to help out with certain tasks.

Click for more breast cancer resources & links.