Supportive Care Bulletin
Helpful tips for family caregivers
If your summer involves more family visiting time, we’ve got some tips to help. You might also want to acknowledge Cancer Survivors Day and be sure your loved one, or any family members over 50, are up to date on their cancer screenings. (Forward this newsletter so they can review it themselves.) Early detection is the best bet for beating a cancer diagnosis!
- Caregiving with kids
- Honoring Cancer Survivors Day: How to increase your odds of survival
- Understanding the rhythm of a disease
Caregiving with kids
Children generally like to feel included. But they may not know how to relate to an ill family member with limited abilities. Here are some ideas for home-based activities with elementary-age children.
Finger foods are fun to prepare and eat together.
- Keep it simple: Chunks of cheese with crackers, peanut butter in celery, wash-and-eat fruits such as grapes and berries.
- Set the table with fancy china or make it a “picnic” with paper plates and cups.
Side-by-side reading nurtures a relationship.
- Both can collect and share favorite comic strips or children’s books.
- If your loved one has dementia, reading from picture books can help stimulate conversation.
Photographs spark memories.
- Looking at old photo albums together can bring family history alive. Better yet, have the child write “captions” for the album.
- If your elder family member wasn’t along on vacation, let the young one do show-and-tell with photographs.
Everybody needs an exercise buddy.
- Play “catch” with a soft beach ball, nerf ball, or big rubber ball either overhead or by bouncing between two players.
- Watch gentle exercise shows together such as PBS’ “Sit and Be Fit.” Or purchase a DVD or video for exercises that are geared to the elder but are healthy and safe for both.
Children are observant and curious. Their noses are sensitive to smells. If odors tend to be present, make sure there’s plenty of fresh air circulating and consider having a bouquet of flowers in the room. Talk with children ahead of time about your loved one’s situation. They will be less likely to blurt out awkward questions or to worry that your loved one’s condition is contagious.Return to top
Honoring Cancer Survivors Day: How to increase your odds of survival
Over 12 million Americans are living proof that cancer can be a survivable disease—especially if it is caught early.
June 7, 2009, marked the 22nd annual Cancer Survivors Day. To give your loved one the best chance at beating a cancer diagnosis, follow the screenings recommended for all older adults. (And if you are over age 50, make an appointment for yourself at the same time!)
Yearly for women 50 and older
- A mammogram and a breast exam by a health professional. Look into mammogram reminder tools to keep you on schedule.
- Breast self-exams once a month.
- A cervical Pap exam. If you have had three normal tests in a row, you may not need an annual Pap test. Women over 70 with 10 years of normal Pap results have a very low risk of cervical cancer. Check with your doctor to see what’s right for you.
Yearly for men 50 and older
- Annual prostate cancer screenings are not supported by the American Cancer Society. Instead, the PSA blood test and clinical rectal exam are considered optional. Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Every 5 or 10 years for all older adults
- Certain stool and blood tests can detect colon or rectal cancer. Better yet are tests that also find precancerous growths. These tests include sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, CT colonography, or colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about the test and the schedule that is right for you.
Make an appointment with your doctor
Anytime you have changes in bowel or bladder function, unexplained lumps or swellings, or unexpected uterine bleeding or spotting.
If your loved one is on Medicare, many of these tests are a covered benefit.Return to top
Understanding the rhythm of a disease
Much of the strain of caring for a loved one lies in the loss of a predictable routine, a sense of “normalcy.” Understanding the course of your loved one’s condition—the rhythm of how it unfolds—can empower you to respond more flexibly to its challenges.
Do any of these patterns ring true for your situation?
- Relapsing pattern: Repeated flare-ups of illness followed by a “return to normal.”Actually, with a relapsing pattern, there are two “normals.”
- Have systems in place for flare-ups.Ensure that your employer, other family members, etc., know what to expect when you have to move to Plan B.
- Return quickly to “healthy mode.”It’s also important to have a strong Plan A in place for those times when your loved one is doing well.
- Progressive pattern: A steady decline over time.With this pattern, things are continually changing, and unfortunately, “normal” seems to always get worse.
- Watch out for irritability, burnout, and depression among family members.
- Breaks from caregiving are essential. You need to pace yourself for the long haul!
- Allow yourself to mourn the changes. Join a support group (online or in person), talk with a counselor, or write in a journal.
- Plateau pattern: A sudden event causes change but levels out to a “new normal.”The initial shock of a stroke, for instance, wreaks havoc on a family’s routines. But after you adjust to your loved one’s new abilities, life can become more predictable and less stressful.
- Keep your focus on what your loved one CAN do.Instead of focusing on what “used to be,” turn your attention to the pleasant activities that are possible within your relative’s limitations.
While you may not be able to change the disease, sometimes understanding its rhythm can help you find routines that make it less stressful.Return to top