Cancer can affect people of any age, but 60% of cancer patients are 65 or older, and 10-15% of nursing facility residents are cancer patients. Here’s what nursing assistants should know about cancer in the elderly.
Nursing home residents may or may not be aware of symptoms that point to a cancer diagnosis. This is especially true of dementia patients, who don’t communicate well and may not notice or report symptoms. Nursing assistants should look out for symptoms in their patients and report their suspicions to the medical team in charge. Symptoms to look out for include jaundice, a recurring cough, bleeding from using the toilet, lumps anywhere on the body, changes in shape and size of moles and unexplained weight loss.
The most common symptom which elderly patients suffer from is pain. That makes pain management in nursing facilities a priority. There is a wide variety of available pain management medication, but doctors are sometimes uninformed or reluctant to prescribe sufficient medicine. Hospice patients tend to be treated with more pain meds than other cancer patients, even though it is crucial for all patients. Nursing assistants can monitor pain and let physicians know if their patients aren’t sufficiently comfortable.
Until recently, doctors were reluctant to perform surgeries and take other drastic measures to treat cancer in the elderly, since it was assumed that their bodies wouldn’t be able to handle it. Recent research shows that some seniors can handle aggressive treatments, especially those with better physical health and the ability to handle activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing and going to the bathroom. Patients who need assistance with these types of activities are more likely to receive a modified form of treatment which is gentler on the body.
Lack of Research
More than half of cancer patients don’t live more than a year after being admitted into a nursing home. As a result, a lot of nursing facility research focuses on end of life and hospice care, and very little on the many patients who live for years with cancer. Stand Up to Cancer Day focuses on raising money for cancer research. There is, of course, much research to be done in all areas of cancer, but we at Towne Nursing believe that the study of cancer in the elderly, especially in nursing facilities, is extremely important.
To donate funds to cancer research, go to standuptocancer.org.