Causes of Chemo Brain

  Causes of Chemo Brain
Are you having trouble remembering things during or after treatment? Is a friend or family member having trouble remembering things, are they getting frustrated or easily aggravated about being forgetful, or missing meetings and other important things?  If so, don’t worry, it is COMPLETELY normal, and you can definitely learn to manage this, or help a friend or family member to manage this side effect. This is the result of chemo brain, or in other words, chemo fog which is memory problems resulting from chemo and radiation as well as other cancer treatments. Although no one is quite sure what specifically causes chemo brain, there are many things that doctors think could be the cause including:
 The stress of being diagnosed with cancer of any form
 The cancer itself, such as brain tumors or the effect on the body
 Many of the different treatment options and medications could also be causes because of the way they affect your body
 Chemo brain makes it hard to concentrate, it may make you process things slower, it may also make you forgetful, or just generally feeling mentally different from before you had cancer or started treatment. It can definitely make things more difficult and frustrating than it did before, but it’s important to remember that this fog will not last forever, and that you can and will get through it.
Many of the side effects of cancer treatment can cause chemo brain as well. Anemia, fatigue, sleep problems, hormone imbalances and nutritional deficiencies are all thought to be common causes of this particular side effect. There is an emotional factor of chemo brain as well, depression, anxiety, stress, and anger are just some of them.The different emotions can enhance chemo brain and in these emotional states make it harder to remember things, and concentrate on tasks.  A majority of the time chemo brain only lasts several months after treatment, but in some cases it can last for several years.
It is of the utmost importance that you disclose all symptoms with your doctor so they can determine what is causing these symptoms and possibly give you medication to reduce these problems and figure out if chemo brain is the cause and that the cause of these symptoms is not something more serious. There are, however, natural ways of reducing chemo brain which you can find under the “Natural ways of reducing chemo brain” on this webpage https://www.upcancer.org/emotions-and-chemobrain . But here are a few tips if you are just looking for the basics, make sure you are taking care of yourself as best as possible, this means get enough sleep, exercise when you can and eat healthy foods. You also want to make sure you take time every day to gather yourself and your thoughts and just relax. Run everything by your doctor and keep a positive mindset.
Are you a caregiver, family member, or friend of someone currently facing the symptoms of chemo brain? The first thing you can do to help someone going through this is to make sure that they have told their doctor about their symptoms, and if they haven’t, help them come to the decision that telling their doctor about these symptoms is the right thing to do. Chemo brain is extremely common and is able to be lessened through various methods, but it could be something more serious so it is important to get it checked out. Other than that, just be as helpful and as patient as possible. Sometimes they will get frustrated, sometimes they will be late, be kind, and maybe send them a reminder before you’re supposed to meet. Help them make a calendar, have them set an alarm on their phone for important things you know they have coming up. Ask them if they need or want help. 
          You will get frustrated, you will have good days, and you will have bad days. You will become aggravated more easily with yourself and those around you. Just remember that nothing is permanent, you can and you will get passed this, even your worst days will pass. Also, if you are a family member, friend, or acquaintance of someone going through chemo brain, make sure you are nothing but patient, kind, and understanding. Not feeling like yourself mentally is extremely challenging, and if they lash out at you do not take it personally, (unless you deserve it) they are likely not mad at you, but are upset with themselves or frustrated with their memory.
The most important thing you can do, whether you are a caregiver, a friend, a family member, or a patient, is to relax! Stressing about this issue will only make it worse. Take some time, do some research, and make changes to help this side effect affect you as little as possible! Chemo brain doesn’t have to slow you down as much if you take the steps to adjust and make your life as stress free as possible.



Tips and Tricks:
Natural Ways to Reduce the Stress of Chemo Brain
Chemo brain is unfortunately a very common side effect of cancer. You may be wondering “What is chemo brain?” well, chemo brain is a side effect that cancer patients go through that makes it hard to concentrate, can affect the rate that you  process things, it may also make you forgetful, or just generally feeling mentally different from before you had cancer or started treatment.  For most, chemo brain lasts several months after treatment, but for a few it can last a year or more, Don’t worry though, there are many natural ways of fighting chemo brain, and here are the most common eight:

Make sure you are getting enough sleep! Sleep is extremely important when fighting chemo brain. When you sleep your brain clarifies the memories absorbed during the day for people not going through chemotherapy. Which makes it EVEN MORE important if you are going through chemo, so get your sleep! Rest is important to recharge your body so while you are fighting cancer your body needs to be as rested as possible.
Exercise frequently! Just a few minutes of exercise a day can help lift the fog of chemo brain. It is said that aerobic exercise is better for clearing the mind, but any form of exercise is helpful. Even if it’s just walking your dog, or using an elliptical while watching T.V., getting your blood pumping is incredibly important! Try to find something that you enjoy doing so it does not even feel like you are working out, make sure it is something safe, and try and get your friends involved. Exercising with a friend or family member will always make it more fun and make time pass quicker!
Stay Organized! Using a calendar or planner is a great way to keep track of everything you need to do while experiencing chemo brain. Set alarms on your watch or phone with names specific to what you need to be doing to keep yourself on task, that way if you forget what you’re doing, or you get distracted, the alarm and it’s name should remind you what you are doing, and that you need to be doing it at that time. Make everything simple for yourself so you don’t get stressed out by the forgetfulness. Today’s technology can make life so simple, try and find apps that can help you stay organized such as Timeful, Evernote, or Trello, and if all else fails, write reminders on you hands or post it notes, take it old school.
Follow A Routine! Along with staying organized comes following a routine. By following a routine, it makes your day so much simpler. You will get used to your everyday routine and soon there will be less for you to remember on a daily basis. Once your routine becomes a habit, days will flow so much easier. You must try and take things one step at a time, and not overwhelm yourself, things will get better.
Memory Games! With today’s technology it is ridiculously easy to find apps such as Sudoku or Words with Friends to keep your mind sharp. Mental exercises just as important as physical exercise, and it can be fun! The Telegraph wrote an article on “The top brain-training apps to keep your mind sharp” and here is the link so you can decide which ones you want to try for yourself: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/apps/11779973/The-top-brain-training-apps-to-keep-your-mind-sharp.html

Ask for Help! Family members, coworkers, neighbors, and roommates are all good options for people you can ask for help. There are many people that can help you relieve the stress of not remembering. If you’re worrying about missing an appointment ask someone to go with you or to remind you beforehand! You aren’t alone. Accommodations can be made at work or school to allow you to continue these things without putting you too far behind, such as a lighter workload, or extensions on deadlines.
Eat Well, Take Your Vitamins, and Stay Hydrated! Keeping your body healthy is one of the easiest ways to keep your mind healthy as well. Making sure you drink enough water and take the necessary vitamins that keep your brain functioning correctly (CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TAKING ANY VITAMINS, vitamin C, and other vitamins can inhibit chemo treatment). Dehydration and lack of nutrients can cause fatigue and mood shifts, so to avoid adding to the symptoms of chemo brain it’s important to stay on top of your health. Create a water bottle that has the time on the side so you remember to drink enough, and set an alarm to take vitamins or put post it notes around the house.
Try and Relax! Giving your mind time to rest and recharge allows you to relax. Try yoga or meditation to allow yourself to clear your mind for a little bit each day. If yoga and meditation are not your thing, grab a good book, if you live near the ocean go to the beach, make sure you are taking time out of your day to focus on yourself. Do things that you enjoy and make yourself a priority. Trying to remember things, and worrying about forgetting them is stressful, and stressing about it just makes it harder to remember! Take a break, recharge, and remember that you're not the only one going through this and that there are people who can help you.
         
Overall, the most important thing to do is to use the tools you have at your disposal to reduce your stress and keep things simple. Calendars and reminders are your best friends, and staying as healthy as possible through diet and exercise should help your mind stay as sharp as possible during this not so clear time. If you have any question about whether or not you should be doing something, ALWAYS ask your doctor. They are the experts and will know whether or not you should be doing something. So again, relax and just do the best you can.


The information from this article came from these sites:
https://www.dana-farber.org/health-library/articles/tips-for-managing-chemobrain/
https://www.choosehope.com/blog/fighting-fog-10-tips-coping-chemo-brain/
http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2010.33.9119
https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-deprivation-effects-on-memory#1
https://www.apa.org/
https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2017/03/cancer-treatment-side-effect-chemobrain.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/apps/11779973/The-top-brain-training-apps-to-keep-your-mind-sharp.html



  

Causes
It's not clear what causes signs and symptoms of memory problems in cancer survivors.
Cancer-related causes could include:
Cancer
A cancer diagnosis can be quite stressful in itself and this can cause memory problems
Certain cancers can produce chemicals that affect memory
Cancer treatments
Chemotherapy
Hormone therapy
Immunotherapy
Radiation therapy
Stem cell transplant
Surgery
Complications of cancer treatment
Anemia
Fatigue
Infection
Menopause or other hormonal changes (caused by cancer treatment)
Nutritional deficiencies
Sleep problems, such as insomnia
Pain due to cancer treatments
Emotional reactions to cancer diagnosis and treatment
Anxiety
Depression
Stress
Other causes
Inherited susceptibility to chemo brain
Medications for other cancer-related signs and symptoms, such as pain medications
Recurrent cancer that has spread to the brain
Risk factors
Factors that may increase the risk of memory problems in cancer survivors include:
Brain cancer
Chemotherapy is given directly to the central nervous system
Chemotherapy combined with whole-brain radiation
Higher doses of chemotherapy or radiation
Radiation therapy to the brain
Younger age at the time of cancer diagnosis and treatment
Increasing age