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Nearly everyone who takes chemotherapy develops memory problems commonly called "brain fog" or "chemobrain," and the medical response is to have them come in for more treatment. An at home brain-training program may save patients a trip to the doctor.

When you are getting chemo for cancer, the last thing you want on your schedule is yet another trip to the doctor.

You probably are losing your hair. You don't have any appetite, and you are having to spend hours in the bathroom. You may break out in a horrible rash or mouth sores, and the simplest social contact may put you in danger of a deadly disease. Add to all these problems you may start forgetting where you put your house keys, or failing to pay your bills even when you still have money in the bank, or forgetting to take the pills that are fighting your cancer. 

You let your doctor know about the problem, and you get referred not just to an oncologist and a radiologist and a probably an infectious disease specialist and a surgeon, your doctor starts sending you to the psychiatrist. There just has to be a better way to deal with chemobrain.

Reversing Brain Fog with BrainHQ

One approach to reversing the memory loss induced by chemotherapy is a web-based mental rehabilitation program called BrainHQ (formerly marketed as Insight). In both free and subscription versions (linked below), BrainHQ provides daily exercises that help users work on one aspect of brain function. Wednesdays, for example, are "attention day." The free version of BrainHQ for Wednesdays offers four attention exercises, divided attention, target tracker, hawkeye, and visual sweeps, and five challenges, a beginner's brain challenge, faster auditory processing, better memory basics, efficiency for everyday tasks, and brain training for sports and games.

Instead of labeling chemotherapy patients with yet another disease, memory loss, BrainHQ gives it users an opportunity to expand their mental skills in the ways they find helpful and relevant. If you don't need to work on a particular skill, you don't have to. You don't have to do the same drills day after day. There is a different program for every day of the week. But how do we know that the program works?

The Way Brain Training Makes You Feel Is What Counts

A team of researchers affiliated with the University of Sydney in Australia recruited 242 people who had had chemotherapy for cancer and seen a doctor about memory problems. They assigned half of the volunteers to "standard treatment" and the other half to 15 weeks of BrainHQ. The volunteers completed a self-assessment tool called the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Cognitive Function. They were also evaluated for anxiety, depression, and perceived quality of life at the beginning of the program, after 15 weeks of intervention, and six months later.

Using BrainHQ for 15 weeks didn't result in lower rates of psychiatric diagnoses. If you were destined for a psychiatric illness requiring hospitalization, BrainHQ would not be enough to prevent that. However, users of BrainHQ had lower levels of anxiety, depression, and fatigue after 15 weeks on the program, and those benefits carried over for at least six months. Even after they weren't using the online rain training program any more, the patients in the BrainHQ group continued to have better quality of life.

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