What today’s caregivers, and family members need to know!
September 20, 2013 | by Nicole White
As cancer care advances, allowing patients to recover from surgeries at home and receive the bulk of their care on an outpatient basis, the primary caregivers are not doctors or nurses, they are family members.
As cancer care allows for more outpatient treatment, home caregivers are taking on more responsibility for helping loved ones heal. A study is now analyzing the difference that supportive services can make for cancer patients and their caregivers. Such services have the potential to improve physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being.
For 99 percent of the time, cancer care is provided at home by the family. Patients are in the clinic a few hours. People are hospitalized less and less often. It is the family providing the care, and they are doing it 24 hours a day.
Now, with health care reform, the movement toward home and family as caregiver that has been on a steep incline for the last 20 years is increasing exponentially.
Often, palliative care is mistakenly believed to be synonymous with end-of-life care. However, the goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life by managing pain, symptoms and psychological or spiritual concerns associated with illness. All good practices to begin as soon as a patient starts cancer treatment.
It is hard enough to be a family caregiver if you have resources, if you do not, it is hard.
Advice for people caring for lung cancer patients – or any patient – includes:
• Do not neglect self-care. It is not selfish to take care of yourself and to give you the ability to care better for your loved one. Caregivers often experience fatigue, a weakened immune system, sleep problems, higher blood pressure, appetite or weight changes, and frequent headaches; all of these are signs you need to take time for some self-care.
• Seek help from others. Even if your loved one has some objections, know your limits and do not hesitate to ask for and accept help. Help can come from doctors, therapists, nurses, support groups or others who have been caregivers for loved ones.
• Be aware of your differences in communicating and expressing emotions. If your spouse or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment, there will almost inevitably be stress related to communication. Be aware that you might each respond to and express, emotions differently. Some people may prefer to talk things out or do busywork; others focus inward. Remind yourself that everyone reacts differently.
• Have a strategy for bringing up hard topics. You may determine that your loved one needs a different doctor or therapy. Your partner may have worries about losing independence or being perceived as weak. When you need to discuss a difficult topic, practice what you’ll say in advance and understand that your loved one may not want to hear what you have to say. It helps to make your goals for the conversation clear – explain upfront why you have this talk. Allow time for your loved one to speak uninterrupted, and listen. However, don’t expect to settle everything with one talk.
• Be a team. Determine which decisions you should make together, and which you should make independently. Figure out which family tasks can be shared. Outline your needs. Consider how others can help you.
• Exercise. Exercise is good for the body, but it is also good for the mind. It improves attention, focus, the ability to manage stress and sleep quality. It also increases energy. Those are on top of the physical benefits of improved heart health, blood pressure, bone strength, and immune system. It is OK to start small, even just five to 10 minutes a few times a week.
Caregivers should not neglect their physical well-being, their psychological needs, their need for social connection and support, or their spiritual needs.
Ask your doctor for supportive programs in your community.