Cancer in the elderly[1. “Cancer in the Elderly,” 2006, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1500929/] is a diagnosis many people dread. Once it has been given, there is no going back to the way life was before. And, unfortunately, older adults are at a higher risk than younger ones for contracting the disease. A few of these reasons are related to genetics, but others are environmental. For example, the long-term effects of smoking have likely taken their toll by the time a person reaches their golden years.
However, there are ways to cope with the diagnosis and disease — right in the patient’s home.
Medical management — typically by a licensed RN (Registered Nurse) or LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) — is a critical need for most cancer patients. By now you may have heard of the term “chemo brain” — a phrase used to describe the (mostly) short-term forgetfulness and foggy thinking that affect some chemotherapy patients. This very real phenomenon can make it difficult to remember to make medical appointments, sort out prescriptions, and the like. Medical management at home can fill this gap. It’s also helpful to the patient if someone else is dealing with mundane tasks associated with their illness, as it allows them to focus more on getting well.
Transportation is often part of home care, whether an aide uses the patient’s car or provides their own. After treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, patients are often exhausted, and in no shape to operate a vehicle. Having someone else drive them to and from doctors’ offices, labs, and tests is one of the biggest advantages of home care. An aide can also pick up their groceries, medications, and other essential items if needed.
Chores like cooking and cleaning can be onerous enough for most of us, who may have full-time jobs, parenting responsibilities, and health issues of our own. But for an older adult who is also a cancer patient, they can be downright impossible. Who has the strength to vacuum, or move heavy pots and pans when they’re weak after chemo or radiation? Not to mention the energy that the illness itself saps from you, or the long recovery times after surgery. Hiring a home health aide for a few hours a week to deal with these issues can make an enormous difference in a patient’s quality of life.
Cancer takes a toll on its victims that isn’t only physical, but also emotional. Like many other chronic diseases, the unrelenting parade of pain, discomfort, doctors’ appointments, tests, treatments, and more can wear down even the most stoic among us. The home care offered by aides includes the intangible aspects of emotional support through listening and companionship. Aides can also do activities with your loved one when you can’t be there, which may enhance their emotional well-being. And while joy itself has not been shown to cure any disease, there is evidence that a positive state of mind can promote health in the body.[2. “How Positive Thinking Can Improve Your Health,” October 3, 2013, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/optimism-and-health_n_4031688.html]
All the things above have an unexpected benefit that can help your loved one cope: they allow that loved one to spend more time with you. If you would ordinarily be doing tasks such as cleaning, preparing meals, making doctors’ appointments, et cetera, suddenly, all those hours are freed up. You can then use them to engage in whatever pastime your loved one enjoys, giving them the most precious medicine of all: your love and attention.
Coping with Cancer in the Elderly at Home
If you’re the caretaker of an older adult, you want to do everything possible to prevent cancer in the elderly. However, since that is not always possible, helping them treat and cope with their illness at home may be the next best option. Talk to your loved one today about the possibility of home care, and let them know what it can do for them. At the very least, you will show the person you care about that their battle with cancer is not one they have to fight alone.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.