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Cancer: How to Care for Ageing Parents

Cancer is typically a disease that affects older people. In 90 percent of all cancer cases, the person is over 50 years of age. The majority of these cases occur in people aged between 50 and 74, but a third of all cases are in those aged 75 and older. Prostate, breast and lung cancers are all quite common in older people, but this section of the population is susceptible to all form of cancer.

Why is cancer in older people so prevalent?

As we age, our DNA becomes more prone to mutation. Mutation can be caused by lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking and being overweight, or by genetic issues and susceptibility. However, age appears to be the greatest risk factor for developing cancer.

Unique factors in older-age cancer

In patients over 75, the management and treatment of cancer is an increasingly common problem. With medical technology and treatment options improving, many people live longer with cancer. As in all cases, early diagnosis is critical to maximising the chances of survival. However, older people, who may suffer from a range of health issues already, are less likely to notice the subtle changes which would alert a younger person that something was wrong.

Spotting cancer symptoms in older people

It’s essential that older people, their children, caregivers and their GPs are aware of the symptoms of cancer and are ready to react. These symptoms might include jaundice, a recurring cough, any bleeding from using the toilet, lumps anywhere on the body, changes in shape and size in moles and unexplained weight loss. It can be especially difficult for those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s to recognise these changes. Also, there is clear evidence that older people living alone are far less likely to spot early symptoms of cancer than those living with a spouse or other family members.

Treating cancer in older people

If they receive a diagnosis, the first hurdle in getting better may be in receiving treatment. Cancer mortality rates are dropping for those under 75, but hardly changing for the 75 to 84 age group. For people over 85, mortality is increasing. This could be linked to late diagnosis, not taking up treatment and also to under-treatment. As any child of an older parent can testify, most would not wish their loved one the stress and discomfort of cancer treatment. However, not all cancers become terminal very quickly. Some common older-age cancers, such as prostate cancer in men, can be treated and managed well. In prostate cancer, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. The 15-year survival rate is 95 percent. When you consider a diagnosis of prostate cancer in an 80-year-old man, you soon see that the cancer diagnosis is not a reason to expect the worst.

What’s more, many older people respond well to cancer treatment. This may be because they are more pragmatic about the outcome, but it is often because they have a good support network in their family. However, living alone, particularly after the death of a spouse or the breakdown of a relationship, does not bode well in cancer treatment survival rates. For this reason, finding adequate care for an older parent or loved one with cancer, especially one living alone is crucial.

Mikis’ care story

In this short video, Nick and Maro explain their reasons for choosing Elder live-in care.

They discuss how live-in care has allowed Nick’s father Mikis to stay independent in his own home while making a new friend at the same time.

Providing care for older parents with cancer

A cancer diagnosis is often a time when the family decides that more care is needed. Depending on the stage of cancer, a nursing home may be required, but for many older people receiving treatment, in-home care is the preferred option. This is understandable, as moving into a residential nursing facility does not promote ideas of recovery. Receiving care at home could mean moving in with relatives but again for many, this loss of their home represents a loss of independent living. For many older people, the ideal is to remain in their own home, which they may have shared with a spouse or loved one, and finding a reliable live-in carer.

However, managing live-in care cover is a task in itself and not one most people relish. For most of us, arranging home care for our parents is the first time we’ve undertaken such a task, and we aren’t experts in the matter. How do you find a carer? What should they be able to do? How much will they be paid? Do I have to become an employer? Am I allowed to ask for 24/7 care? The list of questions is endless. There are also the issues of dementia care and Alzheimer’s care to consider. Will this affect who the caregiver is?

At Elder, we understand the issues and needs surrounding caring for a parent with cancer. We know that at this stressful time, you want a solution that makes life easier, not more complicated. That’s why our private live-in care service takes care of every aspect of providing elderly care at home. From the moment you contact us, through to finding a carer and making sure everything is running smoothly, we’ll be there.

We match professional carers to care recipients based on factors, such as location, experience, personality and attitude, to make sure the person your parent welcomes into their home is the right person for them.

Avoiding care cover gaps

Our carers offer a private care service that includes all aspects of elderly care, including companionship. This is especially important to older people living with cancer, as the presence of the condition can be daunting. Likewise, making sure they take their medicines and keep appointments is also important. This live-in 24/7 care is provided in one- to two-week blocks, with Elder arranging the next carer in advance. This guarantees care will always be there, and your parent gets to see a wider range of people while still having the continuity of returning familiar faces.

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"I love knowing someone is going to bed happy at night because they have a great carer."

Bridget, Care Professional at Elder

Bridget Elder Carer

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