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Saving Your Brain Power

Posted 9/2/2014

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  Sadly, we are all aware that normal aging includes some loss of mental acuity. Sadly, we are also aware that breast cancer treatment may result in the dreaded so-called ""chemo brain", so we are often hit with a double whammy. We are getting older (we hope we live long enough to get a lot older!), and chemo may have thrown us into an early menopause with diminished estrogen and brain power and we have to contend with all the drugs that are poured into us. During active treatment, almost everyone feels a little "off" or fuzzy, and it is hard to know how much is due to stress or fatigue or anxiety or the drugs themselves.

  Most women fairly quickly recover their former intellectual skills. As a rule of thumb, I think that the brain recovers about as quickly as our hair returns. By the time you feel ready to head outside without a wig or hat, your thinking likely will be back to normal. Some women, however, feel that they never fully recover cognitively, and sometimes this is a major problem. I have known a few women who could not continue with their professional lives as they could not manage the mental tasks. More  manage and compensate, but feel that their memories or ability to multi-task or work long hours are just not the same.

   In BIDMC's Cognitive Neurology Unit (CNU), there is a special program for people, not just cancer patients, who are worrying/struggling with these issues. And apparently these programs are sprining up in lots of places, providing a structure and a strategy to hold on to what we have. This is a good article from Medscape about these issues:

'Brain Training' May Cut Risk for Cognitive Decline
Deborah Brauser

Divided-attention brain training programs may improve multitasking skills and reduce cognitive decline in older patients, new research suggests.

A group of 48 healthy older adults underwent 1 of 3 types of brain training programs: single repeated, divided fixed, and divided variable. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans showed that those who participated in divided variable training tasks, which included dual tasking with differing attentional priority, had increased activation in the right superior and middle frontal gyrus, an area involved in multitasking.

However, participating in the single repeated training program, which involved simply focusing on 1 task, reduced brain activation.

"Our work shows there's an association between type of cognitive training performed and the resulting effect," lead author Sylvie Belleville, PhD, research director at the Montreal Geriatrics Institute in Quebec, Canada, and professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal, told Medscape Medical News.


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