It is very common, men with advanced prostate cancer find that they are subject to confusion and memory loss; they experience a general dumbing down of their brain facilities. The most common culprits causing this are hormone therapy (ADT) and chemotherapy treatments.
At this time we don’t have any great magic bullets to treat this problem. Sadly, there remains many doctors who don’t feel that chemo-brain really exists. But, I can tell you it does.
On my first round of ADT I found that I often forgot where I was going and why I was going there. I would have to call my wife and ask her where and why I was on the subway. I even found that I would have to describe what I saw so she could re-orient me so I could continue my trip. Reading became difficult. I could not remember what I had read and who the characters were from one reading session to the next.
What I did find was that it is possible to cope with these symptoms. Doing this involved finding ways to jog the memory and doing activities that keep your memory sharp.
I found that it helped if I made lists. I always carried a pad and wrote everything down on it. I kept lists of things to buy, errands to run, phone calls to make and instructions on how to get to my appointments. To fight the confusion I always crossed out items as they were completed.
A written planner, a personal organizer or a smart phone works wonders. I always avoided deleting any note or task as I wanted to be able to later on jog my memory if needed. Using these tools can help you stay on top of day-to-day tasks and keep track of appointments and special days like birthdays and anniversaries.
Use a wall calendar at home, a really big one displayed in a very visible place. It is possible that some people will not need the planner or smart phone if they have a calendar, but for me carring the information with me at all times was vital to my survival.
A simple notebook could also function as well as a planner or calendar. The notebook, like the planner or smart phone should include items like to-do lists, dates, times and addresses for appointments, a medication schedule, important telephone numbers and the names of people you meet and a brief description of who they are and why you are meeting.
The notebook will also function as a way to remember your finished tasks. The notebook as well as the other suggested items are a great place to write down questions for your doctor for your next appointment.
I always loved leaving a message for myself on my answering machine. Then when I listened to the message I would write it down in my notebook or in my planner. My doing this became a family joke, but it was very effective.
Even today I am not good at organizing my environment, but it is helpful to keep things in familiar places so they can be found later. Organizing the environment helps to avoid distractions. Working, reading and thinking in an uncluttered, peaceful environment allows you to stay focused for longer periods of time.
When possible have conversations in quiet places. This minimizes distractions and lets you concentrate better on what the other person is saying. Immediately write down information then repeat it aloud to the person who is giving you the information. This allows you to confirm that you have properly heard the information and you have properly rescored it.
Find ways to keep your mind active. Doing crossword puzzles and word games, or go to a lecture on a subject that interests you. I decided to do a Department of Defense research review, probably the most mind stretching activity I have ever done.
Exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest and sleep. Research shows that these things help keep your memory working at its best. Not only that, but exercise helps your body fight your cancer and helps protect your heart.
Let your family know what you’re going through. If they understand they are more likely to help you and not become angry with you when you ask the same question again and again.
Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.