Many patients recovering from brain tumor surgery experience some degree of emotional difficulties and/or cognitive changes. Brain surgery can also lead to behavioral changes, creating even more stress for the individual and the family. A therapy called cognitive remediation — also known as cognitive rehab or cognitive rehabilitation — can help.
Cognitive dysfunction is a frequent complication in long-term survivors of brain tumors and can be related to both the brain tumor and its treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Brain tumors and resection surgery cause physical changes to brain tissue and can lead to diffuse cognitive deficits, including problems with attention, memory, executive functioning, and information processing.
Attention and information processing speed can sometimes be affected by a brain tumor and/or its treatment. For example, some patients report feeling that their ability to take in information seems to have slowed and their vulnerability to distractions has increased. Those symptoms can be addressed through cognitive remediation.
Executive functioning problems include difficulty with executing “everyday actions,” such as carrying out a sequence of actions, planning a task, beginning a task, knowing when one has completed a task, or even becoming “lost” while in the middle of a task. Executive functioning problems are highly related to problems carrying out everyday activities.
A brain tumor may also affect mood and emotions, and this is not simply a reaction to a life-threatening event. The area of the brain where a tumor is located determines what functions are affected, which could be speech, motor control, cognition, or even emotions. For example, a space-occupying lesion in the left temporal lobe is associated with low mood, but on the right side can produce manic reactions. A tumor in the frontal lobe will often modify emotional processing and behavior.
Cognitive remediation is a valuable therapy after brain tumor surgery to help a patient overcome all of these difficulties. Cognitive remediation treatment can teach long-lasting skills that help restore everyday functioning. Research has demonstrated that cognitive remediation interventions that incorporated elements of memory, processing speed, and attention led to significant improvements in a number of cognitive areas.
The good news is that everyone, even after brain tumor surgery, has intact cognitive abilities and strengths. Cognitive remediation therapy teaches a patient to use those existing abilities to compensate for deficits in other areas. Cognitive remediation therapy incorporates all domains of functioning: emotional, behavioral, and cognitive.
Cognitive rehabilitation is based on the principle of neuroplasticity, meaning that the human brain is not a static organ but can be physically changed. These changes can occur within neural pathways and synapses after exposure to enriched environments. Cognitive remediation provides such an enriched environment.
What is cognitive remediation/cognitive rehabilitation?
- Cognitive remediation teaches compensatory strategies, such as using a memory notebook or daily planner, as well as using task analysis (the process of breaking down tasks into logically sequenced steps in order to better carry out important activities of daily living. The central goal is to apply these strategies to everyday life after brain tumor surgery.
- Cognitive remediation incorporates attention-enhancing exercises that require internal neurological functions. These attention exercises engage both visual and auditory skills, both of which are essential to many everyday tasks. Attention and information-processing exercises are designed to enhance information retention and recall, contributing to improvements in memory.
- Attention, memory, and executive functions are interdependent, and impairments in these areas profoundly impact daily functioning. Therefore, exercises that increase capacity for attention, working memory, and short-term memory will increase overall mental capacity. Such exercises also increase an individual’s awareness of the mental effort required to process information.
- Cognitive remediation is a collaborative treatment in which the individual and provider set goals and then customize treatment in order to reach these goals.
Psychometric testing after brain tumor treatment can help establish the patient’s abilities and strengths and set the stage for remediation. Individuals will also learn how to self-report their cognitive difficulties to help themselves and their treatment provider develop a rehabilitation plan.
Behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes after brain tumor surgery can be stressful, but with quality rehabilitation a patient can achieve excellent results and a good quality of life.
Weill Cornell is pleased to offer several services to assist patients after brain tumor surgery, including a comprehensive Cognitive Remediation Program that focuses on improving working memory, attention, and focus. The program, which is conducted online over the course of five weeks, also includes personal consultation and telephone sessions designed to improve performance in a wide range of cognitive tasks. Find out more about the Cognitive Remediation Program.
Our Care Team
- Chairman and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief
- Margaret and Robert J. Hariri, MD ’87, PhD ’87 Professor of Neurological Surgery
- Vice Provost of Business Affairs and Integration
- Vice Chair for Clinical Research
- David and Ursel Barnes Professor in Minimally Invasive Surgery
- Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
- Director, Center for Epilepsy and Pituitary Surgery
- Co-Director, Surgical Neuro-oncology
- Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
- Leon Levy Research Fellow
- Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute
- Professor of Radiology in Neurological Surgery
- Director, Neurosurgical Radiosurgery
- Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
- Robert G. Schwager, MD ’67 Education Scholar, Cornell University
- Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens
- Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist
- Alvina and Willis Murphy Associate Professor, Neurological Surgery
- Director, Brain Metastases Program
- Co-director, William Rhodes and Louise Tilzer-Rhodes Center for Glioblastoma
- Director of Neuro-oncology
- Director, Brain Tumor Center, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center
- Hematologist/oncologist (Brooklyn)
Reviewed by: Amanda Sacks, PhD
Last reviewed/last updated: November 2020