- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Changes in thinking and memory
- Managing thinking and memory changes
Managing thinking and memory changes
There are things you can do to cope with cognitive problems and improve your well-being and ability to manage daily life.
Keep a diary of the differences you notice, including the time of day and what you were doing. This can make it easier to plan your day, and the record may also be useful when you talk with your healthcare team.
These tips may help:
- Adjust your daily routine
- Involve other people
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Improve your thinking and memory
- What is cognitive rehabilitation ?
- Write things down: keep a to-do list or take
- Use a diary or smartphone/mobile features such as reminders or alarms, store lists, etc.
- Set times each day to check your to-do lists and reminders.
- Focus on one thing at a time (try not to multi-task).
- Avoid distractions – for example, let your phone go to voicemail and listen when you’re ready.
- Pick a specific place to put objects such as your keys, rings or phone, so they are easier to find.
- Pace yourself and include rest breaks to recharge after mentally demanding tasks.
- Do focused tasks when you feel fresher.
- If you feel comfortable, tell family, friends and colleagues what is going on – this can prevent misunderstandings.
- Speak to your employer about reassigning your tasks or deadlines.
- Take a support person to appointments or treatment.
- Talk to your health care team about how you are feeling – they can assess if you have other concerns such as depression.
- Several types of allied health professionals may be helpful in understanding and managing your symptoms or daily challenges. Talk to your treatment team or your GP about referral to a neuropsychologist, clinical psychologist or occupational therapist. You may be able to access support through the hospital system or get a Medicare rebate.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Aim to get at least 7–8 hours sleep each night and rest when tired.
- Do some physical exercise or stretching to improve your mood and energy levels. A mix of aerobic and resistance training may help you to think more clearly and be more mentally sharp.
- Consider working with an exercise physiologist to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle.
- Minimise stressful activities as much as possible.
- Try meditation or relaxation to reduce stress.
- During conversation, focus carefully and repeat what has been said to you.
- Add meaning to information you need to remember, e.g. picture someone called Robyn with a robin bird above their head.
- Break down new information into smaller chunks, e.g. remember 2507000 by thinking of 2507 as Christmas in July, then 000 as the emergency phone number.
- Take a class to learn a new skill, such as a new language or musical instrument.
- Try doing something creative, like art or crafts.
- Try cognitive rehabilitation.
Some people who experience changes in thinking and memory find cognitive training or rehabilitation useful, especially if there is a significant and/or lasting impact on their well-being and ability to manage.
In this therapy, a trained health professional will assess you and help you work on developing strategies to overcome specific challenges. You may be offered cognitive training (sometimes known as “brain training”) or rehabilitation to improve your symptoms by working on your attention, memory and navigation skills.
Speak to your health care team about accessing cognitive rehabilitation services, which may be available through some hospitals, psychologists or other health services.
Medicare rebates are available if treatment is provided under a Mental Health Care Plan. Speak with your GP. Some private health funds may provide rebates; check with your insurer.
Podcast: Brain Fog and Cancer
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This information was developed in March 2018 and reviewed by: Dr Haryana Dhillon, Senior Research Fellow, CeMPED, University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Heather Green, Health Psychologist, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Amanda Hutchinson, Clinical Psychologist, University of South Australia, SA; Celia Marston, Chief Occupational Therapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Sydney Survivorship Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, University of Sydney, NSW; Naveena Nekkalapudi, consumer; Monica Conway, 13 11 20 consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC.
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