Brain power and intellect 


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A number of studies have reported a reduction in brain power after cancer treatments including surgery, chemotherapy or whilst taking hormone therapies. This can be exacerbated by fatigue or other drugs such as pain killers, sedatives or antidepressants. Other medical conditions can effect cognitive function such as an under active thyroid or anaemia. 

The official name for this condition is impairment of cognitive function and can manifest itself as a loss of memory, inability to concentrate or both. At the same time patients routine lifestyle may have been disrupted by the cancer and its therapies. Patients may not have the same intellectual stimulation in the work place or social interaction with friends and colleagues. Fortunately, this is often a temporary situation (especially after chemotherapy - "chemo brain" ) although it may require a lot of hard work and time to correct.  

How can you help:

  • eat well - plenty of nuts, fish, polyphenol rich foods such as herbs and spices. Avoid sugary foods as these cause fluctuations in blood sugar. Consider an omega 3 fish oil supplement if you do not already eat fish three times a week.

  • stop smoking - tips to quit

  • exercise - apart from other benefits, exercising gets you out of the house, changes your environment and provides visual and intellectual stimulation. It also increases the oxygen to the brain by generally improving the health of the circulation.

  • avoid alcohol - we are all aware of the muzzy headedness which occurs with even the mildest of hangovers

  • consider a probiotic supplement - although data is not yet conclusive, a study from California showed that women who consumed regular probiotics had an an improved brain function and less anxiety - read more

  • get a good nights sleep - see sleep hygiene tips

  • be socially active - the brain, like a muscle, gets stronger with use, particularly if it is used in certain ways; engage in interesting conversations, try to stimulate the brain at every opportunity; pick up a magazine, for example, while you are waiting for the dentist; scan the articles and relate what you learn to what you already know; you might expand your knowledge, but the purpose of this brain exercise is to train yourself to automatically look for connections between things; this helps you think more creatively; it also helps your memory, because having more connections makes it easier to recall things 

  • consider learning something new - a good way to learn something new, and at the same time use your driving time efficiently, is to listen to audio books; you can find books on tape or compact disc at many public libraries; you can also access a wide selection of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, at several online suppliers.  

  • sing - if your singing is as bad as mine, this exercise may be best performed alone; when you are alone in your car, for example, try singing about something you are working on; this taps into and exercises your right brain; Have you ever noticed how it is easier to rhyme when you sing than when you just speak or write? This is because the right brain is better at pattern recognition. By doing this brain exercise regularly you can train yourself to tap into the power of the right brain. This will make you a more effective problem-solver. If you doubt the distinction between the hemispheres of the brain, look at how stutterers can stop stuttering as soon as they start singing.  

  • consider buying a book on brain exercises such as crossword puzzles or solving lateral thinking puzzles. After doing these brain exercises a few times, you'll find it becomes easier. Try to consider exercises which are also fun such as books on hard riddles which you can read yourself or share with friends:  

  1. Why wasn't Bertha put in jail after killing dozens of people? - Because she was a hurricane.

  2. Why is there only one monopolies commission?

  3. If we developed from monkeys, why are there still monkeys around?

  4. What is the one place in the world you can find justice? - In the dictionary.

Imagination and day dreaming have been associated with improved brain power. Imagine different rooms in your house and how they would look decorated differently. Look out the window, image how it would look at the different seasons or covered with snow.

Concentration can be impaired by anxiety or be pre-occupied with negative unconstructive thoughts. To learn better concentration, practice identifying "mind" irritations. Anything that is going on just below the surface is sapping your ability to concentrate. When you become aware of these things, you can put them on a list or otherwise dismiss them. Meditation can help with this, but simple mindfulness exercises may be enough to let your natural powers of concentration function. A qualified psychological counsellor may also be useful in this situation in clarifying the thought process.  

Finally, there is no question that exercising your brain makes it work better. In fact, as well as improving recovery after treatments a more active brain has been shown to postpone or reduce the incidence of age-related decline of mental function.

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