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How to treat and manage chemo brain

If you or someone you know has undergone cancer treatment, you've probably heard about "chemo brain.” The term refers to lingering problems with memory, concentration and "brain fog" before, during and after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also cause confusion, forgetfulness and make it challenging to multitask.

There is considerable debate about the cause of this brain fog. It could be related to chemotherapy treatments or from the excess stress of a cancer diagnosis. Keep reading for things you can do to lessen the effects on your daily life.

Treatment for chemo brain

Brain fog can happen at any time with cancer. Your cancer care team can help you find the best treatment options to ease your symptoms. Treatments may include cognitive rehabilitation, exercise, meditation or therapy.

  • Cognitive rehabilitation. When your memory or concentration, your cancer care team can help you create a cognitive rehabilitation plan. Cognitive rehabilitation may involve identifying your symptoms and incorporating memory exercises and coping strategies into your routine.
  • Exercise. Some people with cancer can combat chemo brain with exercise. Exercise can boost your mood, fight fatigue, and reduce anxiety and depression. Ask your health care provider before exercising during cancer treatment.
  • Meditation. Experiencing cancer treatment can be stressful. Meditation can reduce stress and anxiety and improve brain function.
  • Therapy. Speaking with a licensed therapist or social worker can help you deal with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment.

Learn more about managing the side effects of chemotherapy.

How you can manage chemo brain

Fitting new lifestyle choices into your busy schedule can make chemotherapy easier for yourself and your loved ones. Some lifestyle choices, pre-existing conditions and emotional stress can activate your symptoms.

Try these lifestyle and home remedies to help limit the side effects of brain fog.

  • Develop realistic expectations. Memory challenges can happen to anyone. Trying to hide, rise above or ignore the cognitive challenges you face can increase stress and fatigue, leading to more cognitive challenges. You can manage these challenges more effectively if you have realistic expectations, pace tasks throughout the day and week, and allow time for stress reduction and rest.
  • Pick the best time of day for challenging tasks. Structure your day to focus on the hardest and most important tasks at the time of day you’re typically at your best.
  • Establish habits and routines for everyday tasks. Keep things like keys, cell phone and wallet or purse in the same place. Try to go to bed and get up in the morning at about the same time every day. Set aside certain days of the week for chores and other tasks.
  • Decrease the demands on your memory. Use a calendar, make lists, take notes and set up reminders. You don’t need to face your cancer treatment alone and it’s okay to accept help from others.
  • Minimize multitasking. Eliminate all distractions and find a place to work without interruptions. Sometimes multitasking is unavoidable. Get plenty of rest ahead of time and pick your best time of day to complete the work.
  • Consider using technology to help you stay on track. Calendars and alerts on smartphones can help with time management and memory. Consider downloading apps and explore how they can improve task management, memory and concentration.
  • Stimulate your brain. Exercise your brain with puzzles, games, learning opportunities and other activities to improve your focus, memory and concentration.
  • Embrace self-care. Good nutrition, proper sleep and moderate exercise are critical for your physical and cognitive recovery.
  • Healthy eating. Your diet doesn’t only hit your waistline. A nutritious and balanced diet can help improve your chemo fog symptoms. Some of the best brain foods include green vegetables, berries, walnuts and fatty fish. Tea and coffee can give you a short-term concentration boost.


Now what?

Facing cancer treatment and brain fog can be complicated and overwhelming, but you aren’t alone. Get connected cancer care from Allina Health Cancer Institute for your unique needs, whether it’s chemo brain or another cancer-related issue.


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