The specific cause is unknown, but experts say up to 70 percent of chemotherapy patients suffer chemo brain, a condition that greatly reduces one’s ability to think clearly. Researchers may finally have a remedy.
Doing crossword puzzles, Melissa Canaday was struggling to remember words while also straining to locate once familiar streets in Manhattan. After breast cancer struck, Melissa was suffering from chemo brain, which drains thinking and memory skills.
“People’s names, I’d look at my kids and I’d be like, couldn’t come up with their name. Couldn’t come up with any name,” she said.
The company Posit Science developed a program named Brain HQ. It offers cognitive exercises done on computers that restore mental skills, some using images while participants also respond to written or audio prompts. Studies, like that of New York University Professor Jerry Voelbel, show these exercises have achieved the first chemo brain reversal.
“We’re making more or stronger neuro connections within the brain to make our brain more efficient to do everyday activities,” said Voelbel, a cognitive neuroscientist.
Exercises are done for one hour, three times weekly, 40 times total. Melissa says they worked wonders after just a few sessions.
“I was constantly second guessing myself. Now I’m confident. If I’m going somewhere I know how to get there,” she enthused.
And crosswords are fun again, now that she’s no longer searching for the words.
Studies show those brain exercises also help patients suffering significant head injuries, as well as the elderly.
For years people with cancer have struggled with mental cloudiness that can occur during and after cancer treatments. Its exact cause is not known, and it can really happen at any time when you have cancer, but this mental fog is commonly known as chemo brain. The symptoms are sometimes vague but distressing mental changes that patients go through. They could last for an unknown amount of time, and have a real effect on everyday life for so many people with cancer. People who suffer from chemo brain usually forget things that they would ordinarily have no trouble recalling (memory lapses). They can have trouble concentrating or remembering details like names, dates, and larger events. Many may also have trouble multitasking.
There is no clear explanation of what causes chemo brain and a cure has yet to be found. In most circumstances cancer-related memory issues are not permanent, so treatment focuses on coping with the symptoms. Controlling other factors which could contribute to memory problems, such as depression, sleep related issues and menopause may make it easier for the person to cope. Doctors may attempt to track and understand what influences a person’s memory problems, and try to implement stress-relief techniques to minimize memory problems and calm the patient down.
The company Brain HQ makes cognitive brain exercises patients can complete on a computer which have been shown to improve and restore mental skills. They use images, audio, and sometimes written prompts. Studies show that the exercises don’t just improve your ability to complete more of them, but they generalize to create improvements in cognition beyond the exercise, resulting in faster thinking, better focus and remembering more in everyday life. They don’t drill memory or teach tricks. Many of them target important roots of thinking and memory, increasing the ability of the brain to absorb information from all of the senses. Using their methods and exercises, patients who suffer from chemo brain may be able to cope better and even improve their memory during chemotherapy.