Clearing the Mind: Coping with "chemobrain"
Chemobrain is probably compounded by stress and fatigue. Bernadine Cimprich, U-M associate professor of nursing, said research has found that exercise, yoga, meditation and spending time in nature have a measurable impact in reducing fatigue. In addition, consider these lifestyle approaches:
Focus on the priorities that are most important to you. Delegate tasks or leave other things undone.
When you approach a task that requires a lot of mental energy, break it down into smaller goals.
Don't try to multitask, especially in situations where it could be dangerous, for example, when driving or while cooking.
Schedule your day in advance. Having a structure will help you complete tasks.
Rely on family and friends to help you. If you're having trouble making simple decisions-like meal planning-ask if they would help with decision-making and shopping.
Use a buddy system. For situations where you are concerned that you may be making a mistake, ask someone to look over your work. If you need to read something complex, ask someone to talk it over with you to make sure you fully understand.
A: We opened a study this summer that uses functional MRI-a type of scan that can show blood flow with brain activity-to detect changes in cognitive functioning. We'll be looking at women to see if changes in attention and working memory develop, how long they last and whether they get better after chemotherapy. In order for us to really be able to get a handle on how to treat people, we need to understand what the problem is.
Q: What kind of treatment is available to address cognitive problems?
A: We don't have treatment for chemobrain because we're not sure what the source of the problem is. If someone's cognitive functioning is compromised, she is at high risk for further loss of functioning from stress and fatigue. We can always work to find ways to reduce stress and fatigue. (See Tips.)
A: The first thing is to let your health-care team know the problems you are experiencing to see if further evaluation is needed. We can recommend a lifestyle approach to help conserve mental energy and improve functioning.