Memory and thought-process training promising for managing breast cancer symptoms

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Memory and thought-process speed may be improved in breast cancer survivors, who often complain of problems with memory or feelings of mental slowness. These problems can lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue, and an overall poorer quality of life. The symptoms can be severe and persist after cancer treatment ends.

The study included 82 breast cancer survivors who reported concerns about their cognitive function, such as poor memory and mental slowness. The women had all undergone chemotherapy, and each woman completed cognitive assessments prior to, immediately after, and 2 months after participating in training programs.

The training for memory involved teaching the participants strategies for remembering word lists, sequences, and text material. The study participants used a computer program, Insight, to follow a series of progressively more difficult information tasks. Insight was developed by Posit Science.

The results showed that the memory training program improved memory performance. The Insight program improved both memory performance and the ability and speed with which survivors processed information. Both of these interventions were associated with improvements in perceived cognitive functioning, symptom distress, and quality of life.

“These results are encouraging in that both training programs led to positive improvements for breast cancer survivors. The results suggest that the Insight program may have a greater impact on these women,” said Diane M. Von Ah, PhD, RN, and assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing.  “Even though this was the largest cognitive training study in breast cancer survivors, we need to confirm our findings in a larger study.”

The researchers concluded that, while both interventions appeared promising, the training in speed of processing from the Insight program may have broader benefits in breast cancer survivors. This training resulted in immediate and durable improvements in both processing speed and verbal memory.

This study was published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (2012;135[3]:799-809).
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