Cancer treatments today are still very aggressive. Thus, and although in a good part of the cases the disease is overcome, there are undoubtedly important sequelae that are not always talked about. Some of them are cognitive impairment, low concentration or memory loss. They are side effects associated with what is known as chemobrain.
For years, clinical documentation and studies related to this phenomenon have been recording a reality that is not so well known to most. When a person survives cancer, they face a new battle where they face a wide amalgam of complex sequelae, both physical and psychological.
The chemobrain is a mental fog, a veil that hinders the simplest cognitive processes such as the evocation of words, concentration, spatial orientation …
However, to those dimensions already well known as exhaustion, low defenses, digestive problems, weakness, infections, bone loss, the feeling of cold …, another one is added. We are talking about brain deterioration, specifically of those cognitive processes such as attention, problem solving, working memory, etc.
Chemo brain, mental haze as an effect of chemotherapy
We often define cancer as a battle. However, for many it is a true test of resistance where it is not only about following this treatment based on chemotherapy. A cancer is surgical interventions, those that often combine different treatments such as pharmacological, radiotherapy, immunotherapy …
Thus, and although oncology professionals often suggest to patients that each person lives and reacts to treatments in a particular way, there are always the same effects that end up converging. The chymos brain is one of them. It is a reality as exhausting as the physical consequences can be and that many patients often associated with the stress or anxiety of the disease itself.
However, as clinical studies reveal, chemobrain is a direct sequel to the treatment itself, an effect experienced by about 80% of patients. Let’s see more specific data below.
Living with chemobrain: effects and characteristics
- Research reveals that the cognitive domains most often affected by chemotherapy are visual and verbal memory, attention, and psychomotor functioning.
- We know that each type of cancer receives a certain treatment. There are treatments of longer duration and others of less intensity, always adjusted to the particularities of each patient. Well, it has been found that practically all patients who have undergone chemo experience this cognitive wear. However, and as expected, longer and more intense treatments leave greater sequelae. The effect is cumulative.
- On average, patients experience problems remembering dates, pending appointments, problems remembering common words and finishing a sentence …
- Likewise, it is common for them to have problems performing several tasks at the same time : talking on the phone and pouring a glass of water or orienting themselves while walking… All of these are activities that after chemo they perform with great difficulty (and frustration).
- They are also perceived as more disorganized and slow to react… After chemo, the world becomes more complex and they are more “off” when it comes to reacting to things that were so common and familiar before.
Chemobrain: treatments and strategies to reverse its effect
We said it at the beginning. Surviving cancer is an achievement, it is happiness and it is hope. However, after that stage a new one opens aimed at reinterpreting ourselves. One where self-care is more important than ever, one where we seek those clinical, natural, psychological and even spiritual approaches that can most help us reverse the psychological and emotional effects of the disease and the treatment itself.
Keys to optimizing brain function after chemo treatment
The answer to whether it is possible to reverse the aftermath that chemo leaves on the brain is simple: it can. Now, this cognitive rehabilitation requires time, effort and a multidisciplinary approach.
- At present, various drugs are being experimented with to reverse the effect of chemo at the neurological level. However, to this day there is still no such component on the market, that key and 100% effective drug.
- It is known for example herbal therapies based on ginseng and ginkgo biloba are positive.
- Likewise, these patients are also recommended to organize their own cognitive rehabilitation. Today we have multiple apps and programs on our phones and computers aimed at exercising our memory and concentration. All of them are very useful.
- It is also advisable to make use of agendas where you can structure time and activities. It is recommended that the patient understand that it will always be better to do things in a sequential way and little by little rather than to multitask. The accumulation of activities intensifies anxiety and low self-efficacy.
- On the other hand, and no less important, you also need adequate family and social support. The environment must be close and understandable, aware above all of the effects associated with chemobrain.
To conclude, the most advisable, the most logical and expected thing is that each patient could have access to an adequate cognitive rehabilitation specialized in this clinical condition. However, as treatments progress, so will oncological rehabilitation therapy itself, aimed at guaranteeing the quality of life of those who have overcome cancer. Let’s hope so.