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You Are Not Alone A Practical Guide for Maintaining Your Quality of Life While Living with Cancer You're Not Alone

Cognitive Functioning - II. Symptoms and Strategies

Symptoms and Strategies

Sleep Disorders


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Many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or brain radiation experience increased forgetfulness, a decreased attention span, and problems concentrating. These symptoms, which some patients call chemo brain, used to be attributed to stress and fear. Recent extensive studies, however, have shown that patients undergoing either chemotherapy or brain radiation are susceptible to neurocognitive effects from these treatments. Such dysfunction, however, is not a given, nor is it typically long-lasting. If it occurs with chemotherapy, it usually does so during or immediately after treatment and generally dissipates three to six months after the patient has completed the course of therapy. If diminished cognitive functioning occurs as a result of brain radiation, it often improves following treatment.

In most cases, cognitive dysfunction is minimal and limited to simple forgetfulness or loss of coordination. People with this level of impaired function can benefit from physical, occupational, and speech therapies as well as group support and individual counseling. If possible, they should resume their regular routines as soon as possible (including returning to work). Mental exercises such as doing mind games, crossword puzzles, playing chess or other games of strategy can keep the mind sharp and focused. It may be helpful to use a calendar or another organizational aid to keep track of appointments and other commitments.

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