One member of your cancer care team who plays an essential role yet often goes unrecognized is a patient’s caregiver. With the added work caregivers have had in the past year to keep their loved ones safe during the pandemic, the work they do is even more important today. To support cancer care teams looking to address the critical role caregivers play in patient support, ACCC recently launched a free, one-hour, on-demand webinar. In Effectively Engaging Caregivers to Support Your Older Adult Patients With Cancer, three experts on caregiving teach cancer care team members strategies for assessing and engaging patients’ caregivers and giving them the tools and resources they need to support their loved ones.
Caring for caregivers is often an unmet need in the United States. In this country, more than 40 million individuals help support and care for their aged, ill, or disabled loved ones. Of those, approximately 2.8 million care for family members with cancer. Caregivers often provide services to their loved ones that no one else can, making it crucial that they are recognized and supported as essential members of the healthcare team.
The emotional and physical support that caregivers provide can take many forms, including:
Helping with the activities of daily living (e.g., bathing, dressing, meal prep)
Assisting with the instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., making calls, doing chores, providing transportation, tracking finances)
Performing medical tasks such as injections, tube feedings, catheter, colostomy and tracheostomy care
Monitoring treatment side effects
What Makes Cancer Caregivers Unique?
Cancer and its treatment can lead to a multitude of complicated symptoms and side effects, and the course of the disease can run for years or even decades, making the challenges faced by these caregivers unique. Given that the majority of people diagnosed with cancer are older, most of their caregivers support a loved one older than age 65. Compared to caregivers of individuals with other chronic illnesses, cancer caregivers spend more hours per day providing care, provide more intensive care during a shorter period of time, and are more likely to incur out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals with cancer may also:
Periodically require highly skilled care in outpatient or home settings
Experience rapid health deterioration
Be more likely to receive multi-modal therapies
Experience variable symptoms and toxicities
Experience anxiety due to a continual fear of recurrence
The physical and emotional toll of caregiving is real. More than one-half of cancer caregivers report experiencing high levels of stress. Cancer caregivers are more likely to report depressive symptoms and problems with fatigue and sleep, and they are less likely to practice preventive health measures. And more than one-half of cancer caregivers report that they are struggling financially.
To fully understand the specific needs of cancer caregivers, it’s helpful to know their demographics.
Who Are Cancer Caregivers?
Average age is 63
65% are women
66% of are spouses; 17% are children; 4% are parents; 3% are friends/neighbors
36% report being in fair to poor health
Most are the sole caregiver of the patient
60% do not have a college degree
64% have a household income of less than $75,000/year
All members of the cancer care team—from physicians to nurses to social workers—can benefit from participating in the free, on-demand webinar, Effectively Engaging Caregivers to Support Your Older Adult Patients With Cancer. Encourage your colleagues to download it today and start learning more about how to best support the people who support your patients.
Thank you to EMD Serono for supporting this effort through its Embracing CarersTM program.
National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute. Caregiving in the United States 2015 Report. Available online at: https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015-report-revised.pdf. Published June 2015.
Bluethmann S, Mariotto A, Rowland J. Anticipating the ‘Silver Tsunami’: Prevalence trajectories and co-morbidity burden among older cancer survivors in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016;25(7):1029–1036.
Jayani R, Hurria A. Caregivers of older adults with cancer. Semin Oncol Nurs. 2014;28(4):221-225.
Hsu T, Loscalzo M, Ramani R, Forman S, et al. Factors associated with high burden in caregivers of older adults with cancer. Cancer. 2014;120(18):2927-2935.
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