Caregivers in end of life care in cancer
End of life often comes when a cancer patient’s health care team determines that cancer can no longer be controlled, then cancer treatment often stops. But the person’s care continues, with an emphasis on improving their quality of life and making them comfortable for the following weeks or months. Medicines and treatments people receive at the end of life can control pain and other symptoms, such as constipation, nausea, and shortness of breath. Some people remain at home while receiving these treatments, whereas others enter a hospital or other facility.
The period at the end of life is different for each person. The signs and symptoms people have varied as their illness continues, and each person has unique needs for information and support. Questions and concerns that family members have about the end of life should be discussed with each other, as well as with the health care team, as they arise. Communication about end-of-life care and decision making during the final months of a person’s life is very important. Research has shown that if a person who has advanced cancer discusses his or her options for care with a doctor early on, that person’s level of stress decreases and their ability to cope with illness increases. Studies also show that patients prefer an open and honest conversation with their doctor about choices for end-of-life care early during their management and are more satisfied when they have this talk. it’s helpful for family caregiver/caregivers to know what type of care their loved ones would want to receive.
What to expect from a caregiver?
People caring for patients at home should ask them if they’re comfortable, if they feel any pain, and if they’re having any other physical problems. There may be times when the caregiver needs assistance from the patient’s health care team. Caregivers can help with the following:
- Help the patient turn and change positions every 1 to 2 hours. It’s best to time any position changes to be about 30 minutes after pain medicine is given.
- Manage medication (buy, organize, administer), ability to detect signs and symptoms; know the different drugs (main and side effects, how to administer), knowledge about opioids and interpret the patient’s condition.
- Speak in a calm, quiet voice and avoid sudden noises or movements to reduce the chances of startling the patient.
- A caregiver can contact the patient’s doctor or nurse for help in an uncomfortable situation the patient might be experiencing.
- To be able to influence, strengthen relationships, articulate different tasks (Housekeeping) and help the patient have a social life.
- Participate in decision making at end of life, maintain a healthy relationship with the patient, protect and be close to the patient, communicate with the patients’ health care team.
- Manage the relationship between patient-family-staff, repeat/convey information to the patient, promote patient autonomy in decision-making and share decisions with the patient.
Caring for one’s self as a caregiver
It’s just as important for caregivers to take care of their own health at this time. Taking care of a sick person often causes physical and emotional fatigue, stress, depression, and anxiety. Because of this, it’s important for caregivers to take care of their own body, mind, and spirit. Helping themselves will give them more energy, help them cope with stress, and cause them to deliver better care. It’s also helpful if caregivers ask for support from friends and family members. Such help is important to help lessen the many tasks involved in taking care of someone who is sick or dying.