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Cognitive Symptoms

Cancer patient talking with her doctor

Cognitive symptoms can make you feel overwhelmed, but there are strategies to cope.

Credit: iStock

What Are Cognitive Symptoms?

Cognition is the mental process of learning, understanding, and communicating. Cognitive symptoms can be caused by a brain or spine tumor, cancer treatment, side effects of medications, sleep issues, or other health conditions. 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. For example, have a caregiver help you if you are unable to do things on your own. Using the My STORITM app or a journal, record the cognitive symptoms you are experiencing each day and what you are doing to mitigate them.

If you are having problems with memory, you can:

  • Make a daily to-do list
  • Use planners and reminder notes 
  • 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, you can:

  • Talk to your health care provider about seeing a speech therapist
  • Try to control your breathing as you speak
  • Write down and rehearse what you want to say before speaking to better organize your thoughts

If you are having difficulty understanding, you can:

  • Ask others to speak slowly and in short sentences
  • Focus on other forms of communication—such as hand and body gestures—to supply context clues in a conversation

If you are having problems concentrating, you can:

  • Prioritize tasks and do the most important ones first, ideally when you are most rested
  • 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, you can:

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

If you are in search of additional ways to manage your symptoms, you can:

  • Explore self-care activities that can help you cope with and improve your cognitive symptoms, including diet, exercise, and sleep
  • Ask your health care provider about treating depression, anxiety, fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbance
  • Consider adding yoga, meditation, or mindfulness practices into your lifestyle
  • Reduce stress to improve issues you may have with remembering, speaking, and concentrating
  • Ask your health care provider about possible referrals to neuropsychology, speech therapy, psychotherapy, and occupational therapy
  • Ensure you’re taking your medication for concentration or brain swelling exactly as prescribed
  • Remember that medications and tumor treatments have side effects that can cause you to have problems thinking, speaking, or seeing clearly
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Cognitive Symptom Tips

Learn ways to cope if you are having cognitive symptoms. Download these tips >


When to Report Cognitive Symptoms

Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. Share the symptoms you’ve logged and your self-care activities.

  • Ask your doctor when and how to report your symptoms.
  • Report if your cognitive symptoms get worse, if your symptoms are severe, or your symptoms do not improve with your self-care activities.
  • Ask your doctor what you should do in case of an emergency and when your cognitive symptoms should be reported immediately. These symptoms may include sudden changes (occurring over minutes or hours) in your ability to remember, speak, understand, pay attention, or see.
  • Updated:

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