With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Memory management & Chemo Brain

Memory Management and Chemo Brain-

Memory management can be difficult at the best of times, but when you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you may develop something called “Chemo Brain”. “Chemo Brain” is a change in your short term memory. This can affect your concentration and the way you think as well as making it difficult to remember simple things like names and words.

Signs of “chemo brain”:

  • Forgetting things that you would usually remember
  • Issues with recall- difficulty remembering a word or name you want to use
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing on the task at hand
  • Mental fatigue
  • Confusion and mental fogginess.


Why does this happen?

There is no concrete reason for why “chemo brain” happens, or how many people suffer from it. Different studies have shown different results but one study suggests that 78 out of 100 people suffered from memory issues during treatment. After treatment finishes, many see a drastic improvement in their memory function, however some experience “chemo brain” for years.

Reasons “chemo brain” can occur:

  • Trauma– the emotions after a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and this trauma can lead to impaired memory function.
  • Cancer– The cancer itself may be affecting the way you process information and therefore lead to memory issues.
  • Side Effects– Cancer treatment side effects like intense fatigue and anaemia can also affect your memory function.
  • Medicines– Sometimes the medication take for pain or to combat nausea can affect your memory
  • Hormonal Imbalance e.g. induced menopause or natural menopause may also contribute to memory issues.

Tips for dealing with “Chemo Brain”-

Other than waiting it out, there is no known remedy for chemo brain. However, you can follow some simple tips to help you cope.

  • Memory Exercises– doing mental activity like crosswords, puzzles and Sudoku can help to keep your mind active, and so combats memory fatigue.
  • Gentle Reminders – leave messages for yourself somewhere you’ll see them. Things like post-its and flashcards with important information can be a lifesaver for on the spot recall.
  • Keep a Diary – when you’re out of the house, keep a notebook on you to take down details of important meetings or plans. Every morning, check the notebook to see where you need to be.
  • Phone a friend– If you have something important you need to do, tell someone. When you tell someone a plan you’re more likely to remember it, and even if you do forget, you’ll have someone there to remind you.
  • Reduce Stress– Stress can create lots of issues to your memory. Make time for things you enjoy doing, and things that calm you down.
  • Get into a routine – you’re less likely to forget something if you do it on a regular basis. Get yourself into an easy to follow routine and take some of the unnecessary detail out of your plans.
  • Priorities– to ensure that they get done, make a list of the most important things you have to get done that day and do the most challenging tasks first.
  • Always remember to get a good nights sleep – Sleep is an integral step in allowing the brain to remember things. Getting plenty or rest and sleep during treatment is essential. If you are struggling to get a good nights sleep, you make find that your recall is worse than usual. For more information, on how to cope with sleep disturbance after treatment visit our Sleep Disturbance and Insomnia page.

If you feel that your sympotoms are getting worse and you cant keep up with things you once were able to, do not hesitate to seek advice or help from a cancer support centre or counselor.

For more information on resources that can help, visit The Marie Keating Foundation