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“Chemo Brain”

Chemo Brain

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction is a common side effect that occurs when someone goes through cancer treatments. It is more commonly associated with chemotherapy and is lovingly referred to as, “chemo brain.”  However, cognitive changes can occur from any cancer treatments.

These cognitive changes can include decreased memory, decreased attention, difficulty with word finding, decreased speed of processing, and difficulty learning new things. Previously, it was believed that these cognitive changes were related to toxicities from the medication or treatments given. However, more recently we have also found that psychological distress can play a role in cognitive changes as well.

Manage Cognitive Difficulties

Most of the time cognitive changes are temporary. However, some patients do experience more long-term effects. It is always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about any difficulties you are having with your memory or changes in your thinking. However, here are some ways that you can help manage cognitive difficulties:

  • Make lists. Carry a notepad or your smart phone and write down the things you need to do. For example, keep lists of things to buy, errands to run, phone calls to return, and questions to ask at your appointments. Cross items off as you finish them.
  • Set an alarm on your smart phone or tablet for when you need to take your medications.
  • Organize your environment. Keep things in familiar places so you’ll remember where you put them. For example, always store your car keys in the same place.
  • Repeat information out loud. Auditory (hearing) cues give your memory an extra boost.
  • Use word play, such as rhyming, to help you remember things.
  • Keep your mind active. Do crossword puzzles and word games or go to a lecture on a subject that interests you.
  • Train yourself to focus. For example, if you keep misplacing your keys, take extra time to think about or picture what you’re doing every time you put them down.
  • Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest. Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Research shows that these things help keep your memory working at its best.
  • Tell your loves ones what you’re going through. They may be able to help and encourage you.
  • Make a change in your habits. Such as wake a 1/2 hour earlier.
  • Supplement ideas: vitamin B12 1000 mcg daily, Vitamin C 1000 mg daily, or Fish Oil Omega 3s and 6s 1000 mg daily.

If these are not enough and you are still having problems with cognitive dysfunction let your healthcare provider know. There are structured cognitive therapies and/or mental health counseling that are available, and you may be referred to.

The Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help with your cancer related cognitive concerns. We have two licensed social workers that are available to talk with and help with resources in the community. We have an exercise specialist for one-on-one exercise and dietitians available to help with any diet concerns. The Cancer Center also offers reduced-cost massage, Healing Energy therapy, and acupuncture.

If you would like to schedule an appointment for any of these services or would like further information, please call 319-558-4876. You can also get more information by visiting our website at


American Cancer Society. 2020. Chemo Brain. Available at Last accessed on June 18, 2021.


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