Coping With Cancer: What To Do If An Elderly Loved One Is Diagnosed

Coping With Cancer: What To Do If An Elderly Loved One Is Diagnosed

It was estimated that in 2015, 89% of new cancer cases would be diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and that 43% of those cases would be in seniors 70 years of age or older. Since February 4th is World Cancer Day, this is a good time to discuss the role of the caregiver of an elderly family member who has been diagnosed with cancer.

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Initial Discussions

When an older family member has been diagnosed with cancer, sometimes the primary caregiver in the family is the first to know. It is possible to feel that keeping this information a secret from the newly diagnosed patient is best, and that planning their treatments without them would alleviate them from the worries such discussions might create. However, this is not always the best decision, as the older loved one will eventually have to participate in the course of treatments that have been decided for them, and will know the deception has occurred. This is especially the case if the elderly individual possesses their full mental capacity (e.g., they do not have Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia or cognitive decline).

Rather than causing them to lose trust in you, it is better to be open and honest with them about the type of cancer they have been diagnosed with, what treatments are available, and how the medical team, extended family, and the family caregivers can help them through it.

New Duties of the Caregiver

If the older loved one receives some assistance from a family member who is a primary caregiver, the caregiver may already have certain duties, such as cooking, cleaning, running errands, assisting with bathing and dressing. However, cancer treatments will most likely mean that the caregiver must provide assistance in other areas as well. New commitments for the caregiver may include such activities as driving the senior to doctor’s appointments for consultations or treatments, picking up prescriptions, keeping track of and administering medications, reporting any side effects to the doctor, and managing any financial or insurance needs.

It is also necessary for the caregiver to give emotional support to their loved one, and to listen and offer comfort when they express concerns or fears about their treatments or health. It is best not to treat an elderly loved one as if they are an invalid, but to encourage them to do the things they have done before (as much as they can under the circumstances), especially activities they enjoy, to keep them in a positive frame of mind. It’s very easy to fall into depression when being treated for cancer.

Caregiver’s Needs

When caring for an elderly cancer patient, it is easy for the caregiver to forget their own needs. This can be quite harmful, as the need for proper meals and rest do not go away because of someone else’s illness. Taking some time away from a sick loved one may feel selfish, but for a caregiver to keep up a positive attitude, they must take some time to relax and try to participate in their own enjoyable activities. Talking to other family members or a support group near your place of residence, or even online, can also help with any worries or fears about an elderly family member’s health.

Family caregivers must do for themselves the same things they encourage for their loved ones to do. Most importantly, if the duties become too much for one person to handle, ask for help from other family members or friends. Seek help from a senior homecare agency if needed.

When an elderly family member is diagnosed with cancer, always remember that the best thing for them is for their loved ones to be there with them, for support and emotional comfort, as well as assistance with daily activities. It can be a scary time, but being together can alleviate even the biggest fears, and give them the hope they need to get through their treatments and on with their lives.

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