Scientists May Have Found a New Way to Help Address Chemo Brain

Chemo brain is a side effect of cancer treatment for many patients. Symptoms include disorganized behavior or thinking, confusion, memory loss, and trouble concentrating and learning. While it ultimately goes away for most patients, the symptoms can make life tough while they last, and they do persist for many. A new study may have found a way to help treat it, though.


Researchers at UCLA have been investigating the therapeutic effects of neurofeedback on chemo brain. Neurofeedback measures a person’s brainwaves and provides real-time information on brain function. It’s used to help patients exercise greater control of their brains by teaching them which triggers cause certain outcomes. They can then try to avoid things that cause issues and embrace things that help the brain function more appropriately. Currently, it’s used to treat disorders including anxiety, ADHD, depression, PTSD, and insomnia.

The UCLA study, published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, aimed to see if the therapy could also help with frustrating chemo brain symptoms.

Stephen Sideroff, lead researcher and professor at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, says, “The history of neurofeedback shows that it’s helpful for a whole range of disorders and symptoms. This study was an opportunity for seeing whether neurofeedback is something that could be helpful with chemo brain.”


To study its impacts, the team recruited nine female breast cancer patients between the ages of 21 and 65 who had completed chemo at least one year prior and were still experiencing serious chemo brain issues. They did not have a current breast cancer diagnosis or mental illness and were not on any medications that could alter their cognitive state. A baseline brain wave reading also showed their brain activity differed from that of a healthy adult.

The participants all underwent 18 neurofeedback sessions after completing neurocognitive and psychological tests. During each 30-minute session, patients watched a monitor showing bar graphs of their brain wave frequencies and were told their goal was to increase or decrease certain frequency ranges to turn bars green. There was audio and visual feedback when they were successful.


Once all the sessions were completed, readings showed that seven of the patients’ brain wave frequencies had nearly normalized, while the other two showed vast improvements. Neurocognitive testing also showed that patients had marked improvements in information processing, executive set shifting, and sustained visual attention.

Though this was a small sample size and there was no control group, the team believes the findings are significant enough that further study into neurofeedback therapy for chemo brain is warranted.

Until more is learned, what can you do to combat these cognitive difficulties? The American Cancer Society says you can try keeping a detailed planner or write notes to remind yourself of important things, do your most mentally taxing tasks when you’re most energized, exercise your brain with puzzles or learning something new, get adequate sleep, eat your veggies, stick to routines, and keep note of your symptoms and what you were doing just before they showed up.

People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!