Coping With Chemo Brain
November 1, 2018 | Mesothelioma
Many people undergoing treatment for mesothelioma notice changes in their cognitive abilities. Your cognitive skills relate to memory, thinking, learning, paying attention, logic, reasoning, and processing information that you see and hear. A mesothelioma diagnosis is devastating to both the individual and their loved ones, which can alter a person’s ability to think clearly, stay sharp in mind, and remember things. To add insult to injury, mesothelioma treatments typically integrate surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, which are aggressive, painful, and physically and emotionally exhausting. As if these respective treatments aren’t intense enough on their own, when combined, they can do a number on a person’s body and mind, which are already in a weakened state a result of their illness. All of these aspects combined can take a toll on a person’s cognitive behaviors, which is commonly referred to as “chemo brain.”
Here, we’ll explore chemo brain and how patients and loved ones can cope with this side effect of mesothelioma treatments. We will offer tips in which patients, loved ones, and caregivers can use to help an individual undergoing treatment stay sharp, focused, and able to carry out normal tasks and activities with confidence.
What Is Chemo Brain?
The Mayo Clinic defines chemo brain as a “chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction,” that, as a widely used term, is “misleading.” While more research is needed to more fully understand chemo brain, it is a commonly shared experience among cancer patients and survivors affecting their ability to think clearly, concentrate, stay focused, and remember familiar things. The Mayo Clinic also lists the following as the most common signs and symptoms of chemo brain:
- Memory problems
- Being disorganized
- Reduced coordination
- Feeling mental fog
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble focusing on a specific task or activity
- Difficulty describing familiar things
- Struggling to find the right words
- Challenges with learning new things
- Difficulty multitasking
- Difficulty with short-term memory
- Short attention span
- Slow movements
- Difficulties writing
- Trouble with perception
- Difficulty with verbal and visual memory
- Taking longer than normal to complete ordinary tasks
Now that we have looked at the signs and symptoms of chemo brain, let’s explore some of the coping mechanisms both patients and loved ones can use to manage chemo brain.
Tips for Coping with Chemo Brain
Keeping your day, as well as your surroundings, organized can help reduce confusion and memory issues. Using a personal organizer is an excellent way for a patient undergoing chemotherapy to stay engaged in daily activities. An organizer places everything they need in one place, making it easier to take notes, write down appointments, keep track of phone numbers, stay on top of prescriptions, keep up with a medicine regimen, and more. Staying organized can help a person avoid feeling confused about when and where they need to be at a given time, or to simply keep track of their contacts and everyday information they use regularly.
Maintaining an organized living space is also essential for reducing memory issues. Clutter in any environment can increase stress and anxiety while making it difficult to keep track of one’s belongings. Whether a patient is at home or receiving in-patient treatment, managing an organized living space can help them keep track of their belongings while also encouraging a sense of calmness and clarity.
Use Daily Checklists
Daily checklists are a great way to keep track of tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Everyday responsibilities, keeping up with doctor visits, managing medications, and everything in-between can become confusing and stressful, making it difficult to focus on completing one task at a time. Plus, a person can become forgetful when they have too much on their plate without a guide to help them along as they complete each task for the day. However, by making daily checklists, oftentimes, a person can stay on top of their responsibilities without feeling too overwhelmed. Making a checklist is essentially creating a guide or list of small, attainable goals. When a task is checked off the list, it can give a patient, who may be coping with the loss of the ability to care for themself, a sense of accomplishment.
Family members and caregivers experience chemo brain from the outside looking in. While loved ones and caregivers are going through their own grief and tribulations as a result of their loved one’s mesothelioma diagnosis, it is important for them to be as supportive as possible, even during times of discouragement and frustration. Coping with a loved one who is experiencing chemo brain, while also helping them cope with their struggles, can be painful, frustrating, heartbreaking, and scary. Chemo brain can completely transform a high-functioning, sharp, witty, and focused person into someone who moves at a slower pace, struggles to remember birthdays, and has difficulty finding the right words when they speak. Not only is it exceptionally hard to see your loved one struggle on top of everything else they are going through with their illness, but it can also be quite discouraging.
Patience and understanding are key. Being patient with your loved one’s struggles can not only help them feel more at ease, but can also help you better cope with their illness as a whole. Understanding their struggles and their needs not only as a result of their illness, but also from chemo brain can help you find engaging ways to help them stay involved in day-to-day tasks.
Create a Memory Planner
Taking the organizer one step further by creating a memory planner is a great way your loved one can stay up-to-date on routine tasks while helping them remember important dates and events. A memory planner may include such items as to-do lists, a medication schedule, a list of contacts with a list of phone numbers and addresses, appointments, birthdays, and anniversaries. This planner can even help a person keep track of their favorite books, movies, TV shows, bands, and sports teams, which can become foggy or uninteresting at times during their treatment. A memory planner is a great place to record stories from the past, memories from before getting sick, and new memories made during the course of treatment. This can help a person’s memory both during and after treatment.
Maintain an Active, Engaged Mind
For those people undergoing cancer treatments, whether as an inpatient or outpatient, the days can feel monotonous. Keeping the mind active and engaged with games, puzzles, hobbies, and creative outlets can have a positive effect on a person’s memory, focus, and coordination. Finding a creative outlet such as painting, playing an instrument, learning a new skill, or even journaling will keep the brain busy while encouraging the healthy function of cognitive skills.
These are just some of the healthy mechanisms for coping with chemo brain. Keep in mind that each and every person is different, and experiences their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments in a way that is unique to them. Just know that if you or a loved one are going through mesothelioma treatments and are experiencing chemo brain, you are not alone.
Reach Out To Our Attorneys
At Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, our mesothelioma attorneys understand how devastating a mesothelioma diagnosis can be on an individual and a family. Please reach out to our team to let us know how we can assist you with your case. If you have questions about mesothelioma, asbestos, or want us to review your case, contact us to arrange an appointment for a free case evaluation. We are dedicated to helping individuals and families dealing with mesothelioma find the legal compensation they deserve for their pain and suffering, to help lighten their load from the physical, emotional, mental, and financial strife they are experiencing. Call us today and let us fight for you.
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