Strategies for Chemo Brain

We all experience cognitive disfunction from time to time and as we age. Cancer survivors experience something worse known as chemo brain. These Strategies include: exercise, stretching, sleep, brain games, social life, volunteering and implementing a plan. All detailed fully here.

by Deb Witter

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Having our daughter go through two and a half years of chemotherapy was the most challenging thing I have ever experienced in life. I also adopted a way of attacking the subsequent problems we ran into with every solution I could find. This worked for us and I know if you adopt a similar attitude you can make it work for you.

Exercise

I know you have heard this all before. The sad truth is that too many people lead sedentary lives. Being sedentary leads to decay, period. Decay as in loss of strength, reduced mental clarity, depression, lack of oxygen in the blood and brain, and overall reduced function of bodily organs including digestion.

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results. The results were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Exercise improves mood, sleep and reduces stress and anxiety –something cancer patients go through a lot of. We incorporated whatever exercise possible when my daughter was going through treatment. We even had gentle movements she could do in bed when bedridden. So there is no excuse! Even very sick people can participate in gentle movements for five minutes at a time.

One affordable exercise device is a mini trampoline, also known as a rebounder. They usually measure three feet across and stand approximately seven inches off the floor. Some are foldable for easy storage. These range in price from $60.00 upwards of $500.00 My recommendation is to find a used one and try it out. Then go from there. You can find lots of information and exercises on the Internet or purchase The Rebound System book by Robert Appel.

The main point is to commit to daily exercise of 5 minutes a day. After a week or two increase by another 5 minutes. If you stick to this slow increase within months you will be a regular and well onto your new life as a dedicated exerciser! One very key point to remember is that the goal is to get to the point where exercise becomes a way of life and is done for an hour a day to the point where you cannot do anymore.

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Apparently the science behind this shows that hard sweating for an hour turns on inflammation, which automatically turns on repair. “The challenge for your body is to regulate inflammation in order to keep decay in a healthy balance with growth. But if the stress is chronic, decay remains firmly in charge. The right amount of inflammation automatically produces growth, leaving only the background decay.” Your body is always cleaning out and rebuilding. Exercise to the point of muscle exhaustion brings about the repair cycle.

I have been following this book for about two months now and my mental clarity has increased noticeably. For the first time in a very long time I feel in control of my body and stronger. I love how this feels and I promise so will you!

We all need inspiration from time to time and Younger Next Year is one of the best health books I have ever read. I highly recommend you purchase a copy and if done through Amazon a used copy is really cheap.

Stretching

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(Photo credit -Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), Aalborg Zoo, Denmark, by Malene Th.)

In addition to exercise, stretching is crucial for relief of muscular stress and prevention of injuries. Animals and babies always stretch when they wake up. Animals also stretch throughout the day. Humans do not. Yet this action can help physical health by increasing muscular motion, enhancing muscular coordination, increase blood circulation and so much more. Yoga is stretching and strengthening at the same time.

They help warm the body up prior to activity thus decreasing the risk of injury as well as muscle soreness.

The benefits of stretching are many and have been proven through various studies over time. There are exact methods to stretch properly and this article gives precise instructions. Once you learn these and use them daily you will see how good you feel after just a two-minute stretch from sitting at a desk for hours. I stretch before and after exercise, when my shoulders get tight and when I have sat too long, etc. These make a huge difference in getting rid of those little aches and pains we acquire over time.

If you are interested in learning more about Yoga here is an excellent article http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/count-yoga-38-ways-yoga-keeps-fit/

Sleep

A group of studies all conducted independently, have reached a similar sobering conclusion: sleep problems—including several common sleep difficulties faced by millions of people on a regular basis—may, over time, lead to cognitive impairment and even dementia.

You are obviously here looking for answers to chemo brain. Well, the first action would be to figure out how to get a-good-nights-sleep. Chemo can cause sleep disruption or the inability to sleep.

During treatment our oncologists allowed us to change the daily dose of chemo from before bed to the afternoon to help my daughter sleep. Changing the time chemo was given helped a lot! We were also given permission to give her Melatonin in a very low dose and this helped too.

Here is a great quote from Florence Nightingale (first knighted nurse) of England. “A healthy person who allows himself to sleep during the day will lose his sleep at night. But is exactly the reverse with the sick generally; the more they sleep, the better will they be able to sleep.”

Talk to your medical team if undergoing medical treatment of any kind to find out what you can and cannot take for sleep. Research natural sleep remedies and habits. Please, do not take additional medications for sleep. Medications always come with side effects whereas natural remedies do not! They might require more work in figuring out what works for you but this investment of your time is worth it in the long run.

A magic blend for sleep is Lemon Balm, Melatonin (1mg) and Tart Cherry. These three taken together produce a deeper and longer sleep. I purchased all three of these supplements through Swanson Vitamins on the Internet and I always try to buy them when they are available for two for the price of one.

Brain Games

Yes, folks its been proven that working mental muscle actually improves brain function. All of us have things we have always wanted to learn, an instrument, language, sport, game, etc., if dealing with cognitive dysfunction, now is the time to take that desired subject, sport or hobby and start learning it. With the Internet there is no longer any excuse not to.

If you prefer brain games on the Internet then here are some links to try out.

http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/brain_games/

http://www.gamesforthebrain.com/

http://www.mindgames.com/Brain+Games

Social Life

Various studies have found that when we have numerous social connections we do better in life. Volunteering could be one of those life- changing decisions.

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Joining a club or group could be another. The theory is that man evolved through groups like tribes and needs these kinds of connections to feel a part of life.

You can find groups through Facebook, local community centers, Church groups, volunteering at various organizations, the main point is to search out your interest and hook up. Here are some links that may help you find groups of interest.

Volunteering

http://www.doinggoodtogether.org

https://www.volunteermatch.org/

Local animal shelters always need help. Another is local hospitals and schools.

If you are a business veteran and want to share your skills here is a great website. https://www.score.org

Strategies

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Photo courtesy of https://makeupgeeek.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/filofax-week-2a.jpg

As we age most of us realize our mental sharpness is not as good as it once was. If you have gone through medical treatment, cancer, surgery or radiation you could be experiencing cognitive dysfunction to a greater or lesser degree. I have personally found that being proactive helps to alleviate these weaknesses whatever they are. I use an appointment book with large spaces for each day where I can keep notes. I also write a daily To-Do list that I attach to my appointment calendar for easy reference, keeping it with me through out the day. Some people prefer to use a day runner or daily journal. You may have to experiment with methods to find what works for you. Simply put, a bad memory is only a hindrance if you do nothing about it.

Implementing a plan

If you misplace the car/house keys then put up a hook just for the keys so that they do not get lost. I use a special belt hook that attaches to my belt or purse. The idea is to find the area of weakness and come up with workable solutions to remedy the problem. During my daughters cancer treatment I was so overwhelmed by her medications, supplements and routines that I implemented a weekly spreadsheet covering everything. I attached it to a clipboard with an accompanying pen and checked off items throughout the day as I got them done. This one action was so empowering I cannot tell you. It was my anchor through our chaotic daily routine and gave me such stability.

It may take some work and trial and error to figure out your own anchor that supports and helps you through out the day, but once you have it, you will wonder how you lived without it.

May you, through implementation of these solutions and recommendations experience improvement, increased vitality and clarity.

~

 

Copyright © 2017 Deb Witter