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Brain-training exercises aid emotional recovery after breast cancer

17 April 2018 09:16

Simple brain-training exercises can aid emotional recovery after breast cancer

Simple brain-training exercises can aid emotional recovery after breast cancer

Simple brain-training exercises carried out at home have been shown to reduce emotional stress in female breast cancer survivors, it's recently been revealed.

Academics at Birkbeck, University of London, said their findings could have huge implications for other people suffering from chronic conditions and cancers that affect cognitive function and emotional well-being.

Post-traumatic stress

Breast cancer survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years due to medical advancements, with 78% of women surviving for 10 years or more in England and Wales, according to Cancer Research UK.

The psychological cost of the illness and the physical and mental impact of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have a lasting effect, however.

The Birkbeck study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, looked at how cognitive training could help women suffering in this way.

Symptoms suffered by survivors include post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression following treatment, and fear of the cancer reoccurring can have a major impact.

The study compared such symptoms in two groups of women who had undergone breast cancer treatment, after they undertook different types of cognitive-training tasks over 12 days.

Memory exercises

Both groups undertook simple training tasks, including memory and number sequence exercises.

For one group the task became more challenging and difficult as their competence increased, but for the other, who trained on the same task, the difficulty level remained the same throughout the training period.

The anxious/depressive symptoms of the groups were then analysed, to assess their emotional vulnerability.

The study showed a significant 16% reduction in anxiety and distress-related symptoms in the first (experimental) group when compared to the second (control) group.

Training also reduced "rumination" by 14% compared to the control group - a causal factor for depression which includes a tendency to get stuck in cycles of negative thinking.

Nazanin Derakhshan, a professor of experimental psychopathology, who led the study, said: "Recent advances in cognitive and affective neuroscience indicate that by building new neural connections in the brain, we can pave the way towards resilience and cognitive flexibility, improving neural efficiency.

"Training-related gains in the experimental group resulted in a reduction in emotional vulnerability following the cognitive tasks. On the other hand, the control group who stayed at a 'practice' level did not show this reduction in emotional vulnerability."

Two more studies are currently being undertaken to analyse the effects of mindfulness and expressive writing on the wellbeing of breast-cancer survivors.

Holidayers travelling with breast cancer can get specialised insurance with World First.