Chemo Brain Is Real And Here Are 10 Symptoms Associated With It

We have all heard of chemo brain. It is often referred to as a mental cloudiness or fog. It’s a decrease in one’s mental sharpness that often coincides with the effects of chemotherapy. Perhaps it could be caused by a lack of sleep or low blood counts. Either way, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment is not pleasant to experience.

What does chemo brain feel like? And how can you ease the symptoms? Read the list below.


  1. Feeling Slow – Many people with chemo brain report feeling slow in their thinking and mental processing. This can become awfully frustrating when you need to think on your feet. Figuring out a problem that has arose may take much longer than it normally would.
  2. Forgetting Things I Already Know – In elementary school you learned your basic math facts; you drilled those into your rote memory. When your daughter asks you to quickly correct her math page, you become flustered. What was 6 x 4 again? Or when you have worked in the same cubicle next to your co-worker for the last four years and you simply cannot remember their name even when it’s at the tip of your tongue.
  3. Lack Of Concentration – While sitting in a meeting, you noticed you cannot recall the last five minutes. What were we discussing again? You just hope one of your co-workers is kind enough to fill in those gaps you missed. Where did your mind go during the meeting? You can’t remember!
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  5. Losing Your Train Of Thought – You are having a great conversation with your best friend when all of a sudden you forgot what you were talking about. It doesn’t happen just once, but multiple . . . Wait! What was I saying again?
  6. Forgetting The Simple Things – Those small, everyday things can be the hardest to remember at times. You may rush out the door and get to your car before you question yourself, “Did I lock the front door?” You may get all the way to work before you call and question your husband, “Did I turn off the iron?” You could return home to notice you failed to turn off the television when you left earlier.
  7. Trouble Multi-tasking – Multi-tasking is an art form. When you add chemo brain into the mix, it becomes more difficult. Trying to do two or three things at once during this time is challenging. You can cook and talk on the phone at the same time most days, but when you have chemo brain, you tend to forget that spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove top.
  8. Difficulty Learning New Things – Focus and concentration are qualities that go into learning. Chemo brain often affects each of those making learning that new skill even harder to do. Imagine you have been a dancer since high school. Learning your new routines now is taking twice, sometimes three, times longer.
  9. Forgetting What You Were Going To Do – You stopped cleaning the kitchen in mid-clean to grab something in the living room. As soon as you walk in there, you ask yourself the 4 W’s. Why did I come in here? What was I going to do? Where was I really going? When did I forget?
  10. Difficulty Speaking – That moment when you can’t remember what your favorite box of cereal is called – “That box, over there, in that thing. It’s red. It’s this tall. It’s . . . “ – can be embarrassing. Often times you know what you are talking about, but you just can’t seem to get the right words out.
  11. Mental Fatigue – Add this to the lack of focus and the inability to concentrate. Your mind is just tired. Your brain feels overworked early in the afternoon leading to more confusion when you’re trying to follow a conversation. You could use a mental nap and find zoning out is becoming a frequent habit.

Chemo brain is a real symptom that can result from chemotherapy. You may find yourself reading this list saying, “I’ve had that and I’ve never taken chemotherapy.” It’s true! We have all experienced these. Imagine experiencing it ten times more frequently, or on a daily basis. Chemo brain takes those cognitive issues we have and intensifies them. Be patient with a person who is experiencing these symptoms. Often times they become frustrated themselves and would appreciate the support.

Photo: Adobe Stock/michaelcourtney

Tips to help

If you are currently experiencing these chemo brain symptoms, there are ways to help get yourself through them.

  • Utilize a planner or smart phone to keep track of your appointments.
  • Keep sticky notes or a white board handy in every room; write down what you need to remember or questions to ask when they occur.
  • Eliminate the multi-tasking by only doing one thing at a time.
  • Repeat aloud (multiple times) what you would like to remember if you do not have any of the above available.
  • Get enough rest and sleep to help alleviate the fatigue.
  • Get moving! Exercise, even a slow walk, can help improve your mood and make you feel more alert.
  • Exercise your brain as well by completing brain games like puzzles or crosswords.
  • Eat food, like vegetables and Omega-3 rich foods, which help keep our brain power up.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to ask for help. There are so many people around you that would like to help; utilize them when you need to.

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