Computer games may improve 'chemo brain' in cancer patients

Doing computer puzzles may improve thinking skills in women who've undergone chemotherapy, according to a Stanford study.

In the study, breast cancer survivors who suffered from cognitive impairments due to chemotherapy, sometimes called chemo brain, showed enhanced cognitive functions after three months of playing online games, according to the researchers. The games targeted various cognitive skills such as verbal fluency and memory.

While physical side effects of chemotherapy such as fatigue, nausea and hair loss are well-known and common, many cancer patients also experience cognitive problems that affect their quality of life. Research shows that chemotherapy can change the brain, and damage cognitive functions.

The study included 41 breast cancer patients who were randomly assigned to either a group that completed computer exercises four times a week for three months, or a control group. Exercises included mentally rotating objects, word finding, route planning and puzzle solving.

The women who played the games showed markedly larger improvements in word finding, thinking speed and verbal memory, compared to the control group.

The women who played the games also reported fewer everyday cognitive function problems, according to the study published this month in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer.

The findings suggest that cancer patients with cognitive deficits might benefit from behavioral and non-pharmacological interventions such as brain training exercises, researchers said.

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