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Coping with cognitive difficulties

It’s not unusual to feel frustrated, defensive or embarrassed if your ability to think, understand and make decisions is affected by a brain tumour. Here are some tips and strategies that other people have found useful for coping with cognitive difficulties.  

On this page we will look at:

Tips that people have found useful for coping with cognitive difficulties

When your cognitive functioning is affected by the presence of a brain tumour, it can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life. 

Thinking difficulties can make it much harder to carry out daily tasks, reduce your ability to work or enjoy leisure activities and put a strain on your personal relationships. All of which can significantly affect your quality of life.

But it’s important to remember that there is help available. 

Your healthcare team may be able to tweak your treatment plan and develop strategies to help you cope with cognitive difficulties and live more independently. They may also refer you to a neuropsychologist or other specialist who can provide greater assistance. 

You may be able to do things yourself to help minimise the impact that thinking difficulties have on your daily life. The following tips are all things that people living with a brain tumour have found useful.

If you find these helpful, join one of our online brain tumour support groups to learn more from our community. 

You may find it useful to sit down and plan your day at the start of each day. You can then make a ‘to do’ list to help you stay focused and to remind you of what you should be doing.

Establish routines for daily tasks, such as getting ready in the morning, and carry out particular activities on the same day each week, for example doing your weekly shop on a Friday.

Break a task down into manageable chunks with breaks in between, and only do one thing at a time. You may find it easier if you create breaks between tasks, such as making a cup of tea or even just standing and stretching.

Try not to put yourself under pressure to complete a task right away, especially if you’re feeling tired. Don’t be afraid to put it away and return to it later. And don’t rush – try to pace yourself.

If you find it useful, you can set goals or targets and reward yourself when you reach them.

When working through a task, some people find that it helps to say out loud what you’re doing as you go along to keep track of where you are.

You can also use other prompts to keep track of what you’re doing. For example, use a timer when cooking or a pill reminder for medication.

If someone is giving you information, ask them to keep it simple to help you cope with your cognitive difficulties. You may also wish to write it down and repeat it back to them to check that you’ve fully understood.

It’s harder to think when your environment is noisy or busy. To make it easier to concentrate, try to remove background noise, for example, by switching off the television.

Carry a notebook, iPad or other mobile device to note down details about people, places and arrangements you’ve made in order to remember the information. You can also use alarms or mobile devices to set reminders for yourself.

Keep notepads or noticeboards around the house in places you are likely to use them, for example, by the phone or on the kitchen wall.

Some people find it useful to use photos showing the stages of tasks they need to work through.

Repeat and rehearse information to yourself throughout the day.

Link new information to pictures or stories in your head. The sillier, funnier or more unusual, the better, as they’ll be easier to remember.

Talking to those close to you about how you’re feeling and the cognitive difficulties you’re experiencing can be very helpful. 

People will want to support you, and it can be helpful for them to have an understanding of your difficulties, so that they can show you patience and provide appropriate support. Simply letting someone know you are struggling to concentrate during a conversation will most likely result in them doing all they can to make it easier for you.

Stress and worry can make thinking problems much worse – which can make you more anxious. Taking some time every day to do something relaxing can be a good way to break this vicious cycle and help you cope with cognitive difficulties. 

Activities, such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga and listening to relaxing music or sounds can also help to reduce stress. The NHS provides several tips on their website on how to practice mindfulness.

If you are affected by a brain tumour and feel you cannot cope with your current situation, you can call our Support Team.
If you need someone to talk to outside office hours, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you feel tired, take a break and have a nap. Plan time for this throughout the day, especially if you have tasks that you need to do that day.
Getting a good amount of sleep (6-8 hours) can be a big boost to your ability to process information and react and cope with cognitive difficulties. Keeping to a regular routine is a good way to ensure your body is prepared for sleep when it’s bedtime. 

Find out more about fatigue and brain tumours.

You should avoid alcohol as much a possible if you’re having thinking difficulties. Not only does alcohol affect your ability to think clearly, it can also lead to dehydration – which also impacts on your thinking abilities.

Learn more about how diet affects your wellbeing.

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What can I do to help me cope if cognitive difficulties are significantly affecting my everyday life?

If the thinking difficulties you’re experiencing are really interfering with your everyday life, talk to your healthcare team about it. Ask to be referred to a neuropsychologist for an assessment to look at alternative, or more specific, strategies for coping with cognitive difficulties.

How is cognitive impairment assessed?

Cognitive impairments are assessed by a trained health professional, such as a neuropsychologist or clinical psychologist. You have to be referred for an assessment by a member of your health team, e.g. your GP, your consultant or your CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist).

A neuropsychological assessment can help to understand more about your cognitive functioning and wellbeing and plan ways to help you cope with cognitive difficulties. They are NOT medical assessments, i.e. they are non-invasive tests.

After an initial appointment to discuss the difficulties you’re having, you’ll be given an appointment for the neuropsychological assessment itself. This will involve completing puzzles and tasks, such as copying drawings, recalling lists of words, solving a few problems or reading.

It’s important to understand that most people don’t complete all of the tasks in this assessment.

Information is often also collected from friends and family, as you may be unaware of the difficulties, or their extent, because of your cognitive impairment.

The assessment can take 2 or more hours, so you may need more than one appointment to complete your assessment.

Once completed, how you did on the tests will be analysed and you’ll be invited back for a feedback appointment to discuss the results and look at relevant strategies for coping with cognitive difficulties.

Download our cognitive difficulties factsheets

Cognitive difficulties – PDF

Find out more about cognitive difficulties by downloading our full factsheet.

Coping with cognitive difficulties – PDF

Learn more about strategies for coping with cognitive difficulties in our full factsheet.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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