Skip to main content
NCI-CONNECT Rare Brain & Spine Tumor Network
 

Cognitive Symptoms

Cancer patient talking with their doctor
Credit: iStock

What are Cognitive Symptoms

Cognition is the mental process of learning, understanding, and communicating.
Cognitive symptoms are common and can be caused by a brain or spine tumor, side effects of medications, treatment, other health conditions or sleep issues. If you have difficulty seeing, it may influence your ability to read and write. Cognitive symptoms can make you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed or sad.

Examples of cognitive symptoms include:

  • Problems remembering 
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty understanding 
  • Problems concentrating

Ways to Manage Cognitive Symptoms

There are ways you can manage and cope with your cognitive symptoms if they occur. Have a caregiver help you if you are unable to do things on your own. Keep a log of any cognitive symptom you are experiencing and what you are doing to manage them daily using a journal.

If you are having problems with remembering:

  • Make a daily to-do list
  • Use planners and reminder notes
  • Prioritize tasks and do the most important ones first, ideally when you are most rested
  • Keep items in the same place
  • Try memory techniques, such as making up a rhyme, to help you remember things
  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep to feel rested

If you are having difficulty speaking:

  • Talk to your health care provider about seeing a speech therapist
  • Try to control your breathing as you speak
  • Write down what you want to say before speaking to better organize your thoughts
  • If you are having difficulty understanding:
    • Ask others to speak slowly and in short sentences.
    • Focus on other forms of communication, such as hand and body gestures, to use as context clues in a conversation

If you are having problems concentrating:

  • Prioritize tasks and do the most important ones first, ideally when you are most rested
  • Use planners and reminder notes
  • Focus on doing one thing at a time
  • Try to stay calm and not stress 
  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep to feel rested
  • Avoid drinking caffeine before bed 

If you are having difficulty seeing:

  • Use a ruler to read 
  • Use large print
  • Increase the font size on your cell phone or other electronic devices
  • Wear your glasses

Additional ways to manage your symptoms:

  • Ask your health care provider about treating any depression, anxiety, fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbance you may have.
  • Consider adding yoga, meditation or mindfulness-based practices into your lifestyle.
  • Reducing stress can be very helpful to improve issues you have with remembering, speaking and concentrating. 
  • Ask your health care provider about possible referrals to neuropsychology, speech therapy, psychotherapy and occupational therapy.

Some self-care activities you can do to improve your cognitive symptoms or how you cope with the symptoms you have can include diet, exercise, sleep, or medication

  • Take your medication for concentration or brain swelling causing your cognitive symptoms exactly as prescribed. Talk with your provider if you miss a dose and avoid suddenly stopping any medications. 
  • Be aware that medications and tumor treatments can have side effects that can cause you to have problems thinking, speaking or seeing clearly.  
Symptoms Icon

Cognitive Symptom Tips

Download follow these tips if you are having issues with cognitive symptoms or seeing.

 

When to Report Cognitive Symptoms

Connect with your doctor and discuss any concerns you have. Share your logged symptoms and self-care activities with them.

  • Ask your doctor when and how to report your symptoms to them. 
  • Report if your cognitive symptoms get worse, if your symptoms are severe (>7), or your symptoms do not improve from your self-care activities.

Ask your doctor what you should do in the case of an emergency and when your cognitive symptoms should be reported urgently. This may include sudden changes (occurring over minutes or hours) in your ability to remember, speak, understand, pay attention or see.
 

  • Posted:

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Cognitive Symptoms was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”