Your head feels foggy — you just called a child or friend by the dog’s name and the dog is wondering why it hasn’t been fed.
As a woman with breast cancer, chances are you’ve heard of chemo brain but you’re not going through chemotherapy. Instead, your doctor has you on anti-estrogen medication. However, you have experienced tamoxifen side effects and have noticed a difference in your ability to focus, remember information, or keep track of everyday tasks.
For women taking anti-estrogen drugs such as tamoxifen, these changes in cognitive function have been described as brain fog, a term used to describe mental confusion, forgetfulness or lack of mental clarity. For women on tamoxifen who experience these symptoms, it may be due to low estrogen levels, which can tamper with specific cells in your brain. Scientists have been able to measure a marked biological difference in patients taking anti-estrogen medications. The root of your problems may be due to your anti-estrogen therapy.
Women experiencing brain fog can use similar techniques as women dealing with menopause. The symptoms are similar – and both may stem from decreased estrogen signaling in your body.
Here are 5 tips for handling brain fog from tamoxifen.
#1: Play Mind Games
Memory training programs have been shown to improve cognitive function, meaning that exercising your brain will have a real impact. Bend your brain around crossword puzzles, learn a new language or play memory games. Finding a local class can be a great way not only to improve your cognition, but also help restart your life after cancer.
#2: Get Some Sleep
Missing your z’s will have a serious impact on your creativity, memory, judgement and attention. When you’re asleep cerebral fluid “rinses” your brain, kind of like getting a car wash. You also consolidate memories when you sleep, and missing out will affect your ability to remember what you learned the previous day. So if you’re short on sleep, try making it a priority.
Exercise directly relates to our ability to remember information. In fact, exercising delivers neurochemicals throughout the brain. Running and weight training can result in the production of growth factors that help you grow new brain cells and improve memory. Exercising is a crucial part of any healthy woman’s post-cancer lifestyle. And with the long list of benefits including improving your memory, exercising is a no-brainer.
#4: Get off the Stress Train
Despite how productive some stressed out people feel, stress puts everyone at a greater risk for not just cancer, but brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses. While it is unclear exactly what causes the symptoms and signs of brain fog, it may be related to a woman’s stress levels and emotions. Meditation, counseling, and exercising are great remedies even if you feel too stressed out to handle them. So stay stressed at your own risk.
#5: Do What You Like
Often, a change in your emotional health can affect your state of mind. This means things like stress, anxiety and negative emotions keep you from a healthy outlook on life. That’s why it’s important to remember the things you love. Do you miss your women’s groups, exercise routine or cooking classes? Has it been awhile since you got back to the things you’re passionate about? Sometimes, being separated from what makes us happy leads to pent-up negativity, which only adds to an already frustrating situation. It’s worth remembering to have fun, get out and go enjoy the things you can.
Hopefully you seriously consider some of the tips mentioned, and always remember that you’re never alone in the experience of side-effects from anti-estrogen therapy.
1: Chen et al. J Neurosci. 2013;33(38):15069-74