Managing Cognitive Changes Following Your Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
February 11, 2021
Many people experience changes in their cognitive, or mental function following treatment for cancer. This can happen for several reasons:
- Your body’s reaction to the medications or treatment administered to fight the cancer
- Stress from the diagnosis and related treatment
- Sleep disturbance that can be experienced during or following treatment
What are Cognitive Changes?
Cognitive changes can include memory loss or impairment, difficulty concentrating, and a decreased ability to focus or maintain attention to daily tasks. Some people experience difficulty organizing their daily activities as well.
The impact of the changes in cognition varies widely from person to person, from mild memory impairment that proves frustrating or irritating, to more significant limitations that affect a person’s ability to return to work or caregiver roles.
How to Improve Your Cognitive Function
Here are four ways to help increase your cognitive function:
- Get a good night’s rest. Restorative sleep improves your thinking skills!
- Grab a calendar. Regular use of a calendar allows you to keep your life organized and ensures that you can manage your life activities with greater independence and success.
- Make lists. Whether it be a “to do” list or a list for the grocery store, using lists will help to keep you on track and efficient.
- Take notes. Taking a moment to write down the main points of a conversation will help you to recall it more accurately when you need the information later.
When to Seek Help
For some patients, the general recommendations above are not quite enough to manage the effects of the cognitive change they are experiencing. If you are concerned about your thinking skills, talk to your doctor during your next visit. It could be you might benefit from some additional therapy to address your frustration over your memory loss or decreased concentration. Occupational and/or speech therapy services can assist some patients with addressing areas of specific need, working toward a goal of greater clarity through improved thinking skills.
Working together with your cancer team can improve your ability to manage your daily life activities with greater independence and ease.
Jessica Thomas, OTR/L
Jessica Thomas, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with Lancaster General Health Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She is a graduate of Elizabethtown College, with a bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Her areas of interest include treatment of patients with neurological impairment, in addition to those with fibromyalgia and cancer related diagnoses.