• Martina Ratto

Can brain training clear up brain fog?

You might have heard of ‘brain fog’ or even feel you experience it often. It’s something anyone might experience at any point during our lives, and feels like we have difficulty concentrating, thinking or organising, or feeling confused or mentally exhausted. It’s not a ‘specific’ medical condition per se, but it’s often a companion with stress, certain lifestyle choices, life-changing life events, underlying medical conditions and even a side effect of some medications, such as chemotherapy for cancer treatment.



In collaboration with Antwerp University Hospital, our team at MyCognition, including Martina Ratto - Beingwell’s Cognitive Scientist - carried out research on the impact brain fog can have in women going through treatment for breast cancer and the possibility to improve their cognition.


“Cognitive impairment can persist for many years after an individual’s breast cancer diagnosis. Our study revealed the significant impact that using the MyCognition app can have on improving cognitive health in women recovering from breast cancer.”

- Dr Anne Bellens, gynaecologist at Antwerp University Hospital


There are a number of factors that can contribute to cancer patients getting brain fog, the shock and worry that a diagnosis can cause alone can be difficult to process and puts the brain under stress, preventing our ability to think clearly.


It’s also a common side effect of the treatment - you may be familiar with the term ‘chemo brain’ - the medication used in chemo and radiotherapy itself can cause the cognitive impairment so many experience, 75% of breast cancer patients reported experiencing brain fog, during or after treatment.



But it can have lasting effects, the brain fog symptoms can persist and affect mental health in patients making it difficult for those recovering to live their life to the full, to return to work and nurture their relationships. Despite the cognitive impairment being quite critical to a ‘good’ recovery, it is still mostly overlooked due to difficulties measuring and treating it.


The study - can brain training clear the foggy brain?


The MyCognition assessment and cognitive remediation app was the protagonist in a clinical trial run at the University of Antwerp between 2016 and 2020, in support of the mental rehabilitation of breast cancer patients, alongside standard care.


What went on?

A group of 46 voluntary patients aged between 18 and 71, suffering from brain fog, used our training app AquaSnap at least three times a week for either three or six months.


“It is clear that playing the game ‘AquaSnap’ every day had a beneficial effect on the subjective cognitive functions – particularly on reaction time, visual memory recognition and accuracy”

- Dr Anne Bellens, gynaecologist at Antwerp University Hospital


What we found

The study found a beneficial effect of regularly using the MyCognition app in easing the experience of brain fog in the participants. This was measured by the cognitive failure questionnaire (CFQ), which is a measure of self-reported cognitive failure, including forgetfulness, distraction, lack of confidence, and indecisiveness in everyday life situations.


“It felt like the game reset or was able to 'clean up' my mind.’’

- Participant using the MyCognition app during recovering from breast cancer


The CFQ was able to measure the improvements to cognitive abilities, as well as improvements to their confidence. Even just understanding more about learning abilities, and raising awareness about the challenge in not feeling able to think straight helped those taking part increase their confidence.


“It gave insight in learning abilities and which in turns creates peace of mind.”

- Anonymous participant


“Awareness about attention or the lack of it in daily life and how to train it.”

- Anonymous participant


“Losing ability to remember creates loss of self-certainty; while getting grip of memory and concentration enhances self-certainty.”

- Anonymous participant



Retraining your brain: This story shows that even when we are going through the darkest times, we always have the potential to get a little bit better, thanks to our brain’s ability to change. You might recognise some experiences in this story, friends or family, yourself even. Brain fog can catch us all, with a number of different causes, but as with actual fog, even when we are unable to see our way just a couple of feet ahead, we know that it will clear up and there is a route forward. Raising awareness of our mental abilities and what may affect those is the first step.

 

Reference

Bellens, A., Roelant, E., Sabbe, B., Peeters, M., & van Dam, P. A. (2020). A video-game based cognitive training for breast cancer survivors with cognitive impairment: A prospective randomized pilot trial. Breast, 53, 23–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.breast.2020.06.003