Aging is the single biggest risk factor for developing cancer. However, it also increases the risk of other diseases and injury and can affect a person’s well-being, independence, and feelings of self-worth. These are all issues that need to be considered when cancer treatment decisions are being made, as well as during treatment.
Disease and disability, which may interfere with cancer treatment and recovery, are more likely to occur in older adults. For example, age is associated with a gradual inability to accomplish daily activities, such as the use of transportation and the ability to go shopping without assistance or provide adequate nutrition for oneself. Older adults who need help in these areas have a lower tolerance of stress, including the stress of cancer treatment. By understanding what tasks an older adult can and cannot perform, it is easier to identify which form of treatment poses the least risk with the most benefit and how much supportive care a person will need.
Older people with cancer often have a different set of concerns younger people don’t face. Those concerns include:
Maintaining independence. For many older adults with cancer, the biggest concerns are being able to take care of themselves and feeling like they are still in control of their health and decisions. Cancer treatment may interfere with the ability to cook and eat independently, wash or bathe independently, walk, drive, or access transportation. Having to rely on others to care for them may not only be overwhelming but may not even be possible, especially if there are no family members or friends around to act as caregivers.
Feelings of social isolation. Older people with cancer are less likely to have a support system in place, often because they have relocated to a new home or apartment, do not live close to family, or have experienced the loss of a spouse, family members, or friends. Sometimes being isolated brings up feelings of depression and anxiety, which may interfere with treatment. Older adults may also have difficulty coping with problems associated with cancer treatment.
Financial concerns. For older adults, how to pay for the treatment and all the little things associated with it can drain financial resources quickly. It is important to discuss financial issues with family members, and check the internet as there are many resources available that can help.
Physical limitations. Older adults with cancer may have medical problems that limit their physical abilities and mobility. Creating a safe physical environment at home often helps. Simple measures, such as improving lighting, clearing clutter from the home, or installing safety railings in bathrooms, may help reduce the chance of accidents or falls.
Transportation. Access to treatment depends on reliable transportation. Older adults undergoing cancer therapy may have a difficult time getting to doctor appointments, especially if the person no longer drives and is dependent on other methods of transportation.
All these factor into the decision about proper care for your loved one who is dealing with cancer. Sometimes the best decision is to hire a caregiver to help with these.