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How can I cope with memory problems caused by cancer treatments?

Some people become disoriented or confused, while others feel absent-minded after receiving certain drugs during cancer treatment programs. If you are experiencing lapses in memory or thought, you need to talk with your doctor immediately. Your doctor can combat this by:
  • Adjusting the dosage of the medicines you are receiving
  • Having you switch to another type of drug
  • Adding an adjuvant drug to your treatment

At home, make sure your diet includes iron, vitamin B, and folic acid. Deficiencies in these may cause a decline in your attention span, memory, and verbal fluency.

Cancer treatments can cause memory issues -- or cognitive changes -- that may improve after treatments end or become  permanent, depending on their cause.

If you notice changes in your thinking, memory, or behavior, keep a record of the problems that you have. Ask your family or friends to also watch for changes. Talk to your healthcare team about these symptoms as soon as possible. Treating the underlying condition often lessens or eliminates the cognitive problems.

The following suggestions can help you manage cognitive changes:
  • Take prescribed medication as directed. Keep a journal of
           medications you are taking noting any side effects of the
           medications. Always talk to your healthcare team before you
           stop taking any medication. Check with your healthcare team
           before using any over-the-counter or prescription
           medications, or natural products to treat your symptoms.
Cognitive changes and problems with memory may make it hard to remember to take prescribed medication. If this is true, try different methods to help, such as:
  • Writing down the time and date when you take the medication
  • Taking the medication at the same time every day
  • Using a medication reminder or pill dispenser
  • Asking someone to help you keep track, if necessary
Avoid dangerous activities if you are alone. If you are having severe problems with concentration and memory, you may find yourself distracted. This could be dangerous during certain activities. Examples of activities you may want to avoid when alone include:
  • Cooking
  • Using tools that could cause injury
  • Driving
  • Traveling to unfamiliar places

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.