Patient Guide

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Memory and Concentration Issues

Changes in memory and concentration are common throughout treatment. In most cases, the changes will be temporary. Your memory and concentration will improve after your treatment is complete and when you start feeling better.

Memory and concentration problems may be situational and vary day by day due to stress, pain, medications, menopause, aging, and fatigue. Since you may have good and bad days, you may want to use routine strategies to assist you when you are having a bad day.

Urgent Signs and Symptoms

Call your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) clinic or the after-hours phone number now if you feel:

  • Disoriented
  • Confused

Important Signs and Symptoms

Report these symptoms to your doctor or nurse during clinic hours today if you are:

  • Forgetting things more quickly and more often than usual
  • Finding it harder to read more than a paragraph or a page at a time
  • Finding it difficult to keep your mind from wandering.

If problems persist or affect day-to-day living to a large degree, discuss the symptoms with your nurse or doctor. Or, ask your nurse or doctor about a referral to a neurophysiologist, who evaluates memory.

What You Can Do at Home

Learn how to cope with temporary changes in memory and concentration

  • Write down important information. Keep these notes on a notepad that is small enough to keep with you at all times.
  • Establish consistent daily routines.
  • Have a regular sleep time and eat nutritious snacks and meals.
  • Manage your stress.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Ask people to repeat things.
  • Keep a list of questions for your doctor. Write the answers down.
  • Tape record important conversations or conferences.
  • Get important information in writing. Ask people to write it down for you.
  • Place notes around the house to remind you of things.
  • Keep an appointment calendar.
  • Use a device to remind you to take your medications, such as a watch with an alarm that can be programmed to go off at times when medications need to be taken.
  • Keep things in a designated place—for example, always keep your keys in the same place.
  • Be understanding with yourself, and know that these temporary changes are to be expected.
  • Ask your doctor to review your medications.

How Can I Keep My Mind Active?

Although age takes its toll on most everyone in regard to forgetfulness, there are things you can do to regain some of your mental ability and prevent any further decline. Things to try include:

  • Puzzle books: Crossword puzzles are known to improve mental skills.
  • Sudoku: Similar to a crossword puzzle but with numbers instead.
  • Card games: Start with a shuffled deck of cards and a stopwatch. Sort the cards into separate piles, one for each suit (diamonds, clubs, spades, and hearts). Do this three times daily. A typical young adult can do this in 35 seconds. Keep practicing this task until you can do it in that amount of time!
    • Creative Whack Pack, a card pack that has ideas for stimulating creative thinking and alternate problem-solving methods.
    • Play and learn other card games such as bridge, rummy, pinochle, canasta, cribbage, black jack, and solitaire.
  • Games: Play stimulating games such as chess, checkers, Scrabble, and other games you enjoy.
    • Nintendo Playstation’s Brain Age is a game developed by neuroscience researchers to improve mental abilities and hand-eye coordination.
  • Hobbies: Learn a new skill, such as knitting or crocheting, or a new sport. Try writing and brushing your teeth with the opposite hand from the hand you usually use.
  • Conversations: Enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend and discuss world events.
  • Languages: Learn a new language. Rosetta Stone has CDs that you can purchase in various languages.
  • Read books: Join a book club, or attend a book reading. A few suggestions include:
    • The Better Brain Book, by David Perlmutter and Carol Colman;
    • Whole Brain Thinking, by Jacquelyn Wonder and Priscilla Donovan;
    • Carved in Sand, by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin (the story of her struggle with early-onset memory loss).
  • Web sites: A couple of suggestions include:
    • Postit Science is a site where you can try out a couple of the exercises from the Brain Fitness Program, which has been used to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries recover some of their capabilities