Mostly due to advances in both medicines and treatment approaches, the overall cancer death rate has declined sharply since 1991. This very good news has a downside. Since more people are living longer with cancer, both they and their families must also deal with cancer side-effects. Some survivors insist that these side-effects are as bad as the disease itself, or maybe even worse.
Extreme weakness is quite common in most cancer patients, particularly among patients over 60 whose bodies are already weakening. Part of the issue is biological. Since more of the body’s resources go to fighting the disease, there is less for other functions. Part of the issue is also non-biological. Muscles atrophy if the person spends a lot of time in bed or is otherwise mostly inactive. Unlike the disease itself, there is no effective treatment for cancer-related weakness.
A related side-effect — cancer pain — is sometimes almost debilitating. The pain creates a downward spiral of extreme discomfort and chronic weakness. When it is painful to walk around the room, most people will stay in bed, so muscles get weaker and walking around the room becomes even more of a challenge.
This picture may seem bleak, but the tools to make life a little easier for the aging cancer patient in your life are right at your fingertips.
The e-word is enough to make some people cringe, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Before the patient talks to the doctor about a program, set some very, very modest fitness goals. The objective is not to finish a triathlon but to make it from the doctor’s parking lot all the way to the waiting room without stopping for a break or feeling exhausted. So, in this context, “exercise” is more like “movement.”
Yoga for seniors is a great place to start. Yes, the y-word is another no-no for many people, so there may be a little salesmanship or even some arm-twisting involved. Most studios have classes designed for seniors. These classes usually feature basic poses and even assisted poses, such as chair or wall yoga.
Yoga is basically deep breathing and stretching. The movement stimulates both the muscles and the internal organs, so patients get a double benefit. As an added bonus, the yoga class offers social interaction, which many seniors are lacking.
As your senior works to get more physically active and thereby reduce pain and weakness, it’s important to make things as easy as possible around the house without making the senior feel like an invalid. The best approach is to examine individual rooms in the house or apartment and make some safety upgrades that prevent falls and improve mobility:
Bathroom: Make sure that any floor mats are non-slip; if these mats are permanently attached to the floor, that’s even better. Wall rails are good things as well, to help your senior get up and down a little easier. In terms of the medicine cabinet, carefully organize medication into a pill caddy and ensure that the patient timely takes everything.
Bedroom: Add an adjustable bed rail to the bed. These rails look nothing like the ones on hospital beds. They’re very attractive and look almost exactly like the other furniture in the room. Also, make sure that there is a nightlight for those dark trips to other rooms.
Living Room: Ensure that this room has plenty of light as well because this area sees a lot of walking. The floor should be clear of any clutter in order to prevent falls, and there should be no mats near staircases.
Your senior may not need to use all these assistance devices, but it’s very good to have them in place when they are needed. You’ll have additional peace of mind, and your senior will have additional confidence to deal with cancer and its side-effects.
“This is a guest post written by Joe Fleming, co-Founder of Vive Health. You can also build up a connection with him at LinkedIn.”