In a nutshell
The current study examined the use of cognitive training in breast cancer survivors experiencing cognitive deficits following chemotherapy.
Patients treated with chemotherapy are at a high risk for cognitive deficits, particularly in executive functioning. Executive functions are those that lend control to our activities and interactions with our environment, such as working memory (memories that we hold for immediate use, such as remembering a phone number), planning, attention, and cognitive flexibility (such as the ability to understand foreign concepts or look for new ways to approach a problem or a task). These cognitive deficits can severely impair quality of life and hinder recovery both at home and in the workplace.
Cognitive deficits generally become apparent in the six months following chemotherapy, and while some recovery or stabilization is usually seen over the next 1 to 2 years, deficits are often experienced even decades after treatment. Cognitive training is a method of improving executive functions through acquired skills and tasks, teaching the brain to work around the damaged cognitive pathway. Cognitive training has been found to increase brain functioning and connectivity in some studies, especially among aging patients. The current study examined whether cognitive training could improve executive functioning in breast cancer survivors.
Methods & findings
Forty-one breast cancer survivors were randomly assigned to receive cognitive training or to serve as a control group for comparison. All patients underwent cognitive testing at the start and end of the training period. These tests included working memory tasks, symbol searching and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, a standard cognitive functioning test which measures executive functions such as working memory, attention, and cognitive flexibility.
Patients randomized to cognitive training underwent 48 sessions of cognitive training (4 sessions a week for 12 weeks), each of which included 5 exercises and lasted 20 to 30 minutes. As patients progressed through training, task difficulty was increased. Following 12 weeks of training, patients showed significant improvements in executive functioning compared to patients in the control group. On average, an improvement of 5% was seen on the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, and a 2% improvement was seen on word fluency tasks.
The bottom line
This study concluded that cognitive training programs may help improve executive functioning among breast cancer survivors following chemotherapy.
The fine print
This study included only a small number of patients, and whether these were lasting improvements was not examined.
Published By :
Clinical Breast Cancer
Jul 25, 2013
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