Coping with brain fog after cancer treatment

girl with hand against her forehead while reading a book

Dartmouth Cancer Center, in partnership with the American Cancer Society, dedicated a series of Thriving Thursday weekly health and wellness webinars to survivorship topics in June.

Heather A. Wishart, PhD, who directs the neuropsychology program at Dartmouth Cancer Center, and Rebecca Choubah, OT, an occupational therapist with a focus on neurological rehabilitation, joined for the second webinar which focused on coping with brain fog. Tom Griggs, a local cancer survivor who experienced brain fog after undergoing treatment, also joined to provide his perspective on the subject.

“Brain fog, also called ‘chemo brain,’ is a decline or change in cognition, or thinking abilities, due to cancer and/or its treatment,” says Wishart. “Multitasking, concentration, short-term memory and word finding seem to be the most affected.”

For cancer survivors experiencing brain fog, or what is now more formally referred to as "cancer-related cognitive decline," tasks like managing a daily schedule, taking medications correctly, having a conversation and arriving on time for events can be difficult. Fatigue, lack of sleep, pain, stress, anxiety and changes in mood can make brain fog worse and tasks even more difficult.

“I felt like during normal social interactions, I was just a little bit less sharp at keeping up my end of the conversation than I used to be. I also felt like I was not functional in terms of keeping up with professional responsibilities and responsibilities at home,” says Griggs.

During the presentation, Wishart and Choubah also discussed how they assess brain fog, how to set up an assessment and insurance coverage of assessments and how occupational therapy can help those with brain fog.

“In occupational therapy, if we can find out what's really important to you, such as getting better at reading and comprehension or cooking a meal, we can work to improve those areas,” says Choubah.

You can watch the full recorded presentation on coping with brain fog on the Dartmouth Cancer Center YouTube channel. To connect with the Dartmouth Cancer Center Complementary Care Program, call (603) 650-7751 or email CancerSupport@hitchcock.org.