4 Things You Can Do for Seniors Undergoing Chemo

Below is a posting sent to me by a colleague, Jim Vogel.  Good information here on caring for an older loved one going though chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy is hard on anyone, regardless of age. However, seniors who go through the treatment often experience greater difficulty as a result. Already at risk of losing their independence, seniors are far more likely to become dependent and depressed as a result. While they may not be able to avoid some loss of independence, there are things that can be done to help maintain as much independence as possible. Here are a few things you can do to help an aging loved one through chemotherapy.

1. Do Some Cleaning

One of the most stressful aspects for people receiving chemo is the inability to do basic things like clean the house. Imagine being unable to tidy up and watching the clutter build up around you. The stress of having a messy home and being unable to clean it can easily lead to problems like anxiety and depression. So, once a week or even more if you are able, stop by your loved one’s home. Pick up some of the clutter, do the dishes, and wipe down some of the messier surfaces. Having a clean home can alleviate a surprising amount of stress for someone undergoing chemo.

2. Offer Help with Pet Care

While your loved one may be able to do basic things such as feeding or brushing their pet, they may not be getting the exercise they need. If you have 15 minutes to spare, offer to take their dog on a walk around the block or spend the time playing with their cat. If you don’t have the time but know your loved one needs help with their pet, try hiring a freelance dog walker. They can also be very helpful for overnight visits when your loved one is simply not feeling up to caring for their pet.

3. Grocery Shopping Always Helps

Not only will grocery shopping be a huge help to your loved one, but you can also ensure that their home is stocked with healthy, beneficial foods. Certain foods are shown to have cancer-fighting properties while others boost immunity, alleviate nausea, and much more. Light foods such as dried fruits and crackers are great for helping combat nausea while light meals before chemo can actually prevent nausea.

4. Consider Researching Assisted Living

Many people lead tremendously busy lives today, and some seniors may not have the luxury of having familial assistance due to busy family members or family who lives too far away to help frequently. A number of assisted living facilities offer temporary stays for circumstances such as chemotherapy and recovery help. While having family around may be best, assisted living can be an enormous help for a busy family.

Of course, due to its expense, assisted living may not be an option for everyone. And indeed, many seniors undergoing chemo will prefer to stay in their current home. In those cases, they might hire in-home help. Many companies can help seniors connect with nurses, nurse’s aides, or other caregivers who can come to the home for a certain time each day to give the senior the help they need.

Helping someone you care about cope with cancer treatments is never easy. You may feel unprepared to help your loved one through the experience. However, you do not need to take care of every facet of their care. “Help” can be as simple as stopping by once a week with some groceries and spare time to clean up. Of course, if you feel your family cannot keep up with the needs of your loved one, professional help is always an option and should not be overlooked. The most important thing is to let your loved one know you care in whatever way you can.

Jim Vogel created ElderAction.org along with his wife after they became caregivers for their aging parents. The site is dedicated to promoting senior health and providing valuable information to seniors and their caregivers to help ensure our nation’s seniors are able to thrive throughout their golden years.

Image via Pixabay by brenkee


Avoiding Caregiver Burnout During the Holidays

Both caregiving for an elderly loved one and preparing for the holidays can come with a lot of joy, but also some unintended stress. As such, it’s vital that caregivers don’t overload themselves as they balance the day-to-day demands of caring for an older family member with the additional commitments that pop up around the holiday season. So what’s the best way to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out?
First a little background. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude, specifically from positive and caring to negative and detached. Sometimes we don’t even notice we are getting burned out until others tell us they see the symptoms. The most common symptoms of burnout are increased fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. Taking care of an older family member can already deplete our stores of energy, and when the holidays come around, there’s sometimes nothing left to draw upon. Things that once brought pleasure (baking with the grandkids or decorating the table, for instance) now seem like chores.
Consider these tips to help minimize unnecessary stressors around both caregiving and the holidays:

First, recognize the signs of increased stress. Has your mood changed? Are you often down, irritated and angry? Are your sleep, attention and energy levels disrupted? Remember that stress is a supply and demand problem. It’s the result of too many requests and not enough resources (such as time, energy and attention) to meet them.

Second, try shifting your focus to what you can control. We can choose our attitude, and we can choose when we say “yes” or “no.” (Every “yes” is a “no” to something else when you are already loaded with responsibilities.) We have learned from scientific studies on the brain that a positive perspective increases energy, productivity and mood, so it’s important to focus on what’s appreciated and what we are grateful for. In addition, what you agree to do, or not do, can give you a sense of control in situations you often can’t direct. You can’t control, for example, the course of a family member’s condition, but you can control the commitments you make to others and ensure you are not overtaxing yourself. The holidays may be the perfect time to say “yes” to offers of assistance. A friend asking how they can help you out should be thanked and given a job, like picking up medicine or food the next time they go to the store.

And third, try honing the five resiliency skills taught by Al Siebert and other Resiliency experts:
Prioritize safety and self-care. You can’t take care of others if you don’t first ensure that you are in good shape. Go to the doctor, go for a walk or get out with friends. Each of these things can be important to help sustain your own health and well-being.
Learn and practice breathing and relaxation techniques. Relaxation breathing is a way to calm yourself when you feel particularly stressed or overwhelmed. Inhale through your nose for a count of three, and then exhale for a count of four (as if you were blowing out a candle). Complete four or five of these deep-breathing sequences, and you will be on your way to becoming calm enough to handle the task in front of you.
Communication is key. Talk with friends, family members, a counselor or a spiritual leader. Don’t hold everything in. You have more power when you let others carry some of the emotional burden.
Connect with different groups. Different networks of friends and acquaintances, whether they’re from the neighborhood, your book club or church group, refresh and renew us. Reach out.
Concentrate on optimism. Look for the good in the world. We feel what we focus on, so why not choose to see the positive qualities in the people around us? It’s easy to become inundated with bad news, so we have to work to keep optimistic, positive and grateful for what we have. This state of mind can help re-energize you and improve your attitude immeasurably.
The bottom line is that, to care for a loved one and make it through the joyous but sometimes stressful holiday period, we have to take care of ourselves. In doing so, we are making ourselves more emotionally available to the ones we love and care about.
Now, pass the pumpkin pie, please!

Sylvia Nissenboim, LCSW, Lifework Transitions, is a licensed counselor and certified coach with more than 30 years of experience helping families care for aging parents through coaching, counseling and consultation services.

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My Last Wish: Control over an End of Life Decision

An Important Living Will Update

Over the last few months I have found myself listening to interviews, recordings and webinars about end of life decisions, especially when dementia is the primary diagnosis.

What I have learned is both shocking and empowering.

What has shocked me is that the language in a common, generic living will does not give any directive to family members and health care professionals of persons with dementia, who despite severe brain damage, are not being sustained by artificial nutrition or hydration from which to be withdrawn. For most end stage dementia patients, life dwindles very slowly, and commonly, no feeding tubes or other mechanical devices have been utilized. When the patient no longer feeds themselves, well-meaning family members and caregivers find themselves feeding them by hand, thus sustaining the person’s life despite the fact that the patient’s cognitive impairment has become so severe that all awareness and abilities have dwindled.

What I have discovered that empowers me, is that new language can be added to our living wills, for any of us having, or fearing a dementia diagnosis, and wanting to avoid a long and slow decline beyond the time we are cognizant of our surroundings, able to care for ourselves –or ultimately recognize our loved ones.

The issue is that at this point, is life worth living? Some may say yes. Others, like myself, want to be sure to include language that underscores a desire to direct others to stop manually feeding or hydrating us, when all awareness, all abilities are gone. This, then, initiates an absolute course toward a natural death. It is critically important that we have discussed this with family and health care professionals  this and update our Living Wills when still cognitively intact.

This is the statement I will be adding to my living will. ( almost verbatim from the interview recorded on the recent Diane Rehm show.(noted below)

“When my brain is shutting down, and I have forgotten who I love, how to eat, and am in a fetal position, merely being kept alive, I want my family to have a creative collaboration with the forces of nature* to allow a natural death at the earliest possible moment.”

* death by withholding of nutrition and hydration

If my family must advocate for me to have this final gift, I thank them in advance.


  • NPR’s Diane Rehm show 7/7/14 on Choosing to Die    copy/paste into browser
    • http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-07-07/choosing-die
  • End Of Life University- Karen Wyatt, MD’s interview of Stanley Terman, MD of CaringAdvocates.org

Coaching: A New Support for Caregivers

It’s no surprise that providing care for a family member is a full time job.  This is especially so if caregivers provide daily care in addition to their already stressful jobs, whether at the office or at home. Even if direct care is not a regular occurrence, there is a backdrop of tasks that can overwhelm even the most conscientious.

A variety of scenarios may arise that challenge caregivers. The homemaker might have just quit and someone needs to be with mom, so you can go to work.  Or, when you are at work, she calls repeatedly complaining that she is bored.  Coming up with an activity schedule may be the hurdle you face.  How do you figure out how to care for her, as her condition worsens, when quitting your job is not an option? What resources can you draw upon? How do you get support from your family when you have historically been the one caring for your mom?  Or how do you lessen the stress when family meetings bring out the differences among your siblings in how to best care for mom?

These are just a few of the common worries family care givers carry around, that puts added strain on their already taxed days and nights. It can be immobilizing. If caregivers do not get help, both they and the family members they are caring for can be at risk.

When too many important tasks are relegated to the “back-burner” and don’t seem to ever get handled, the care provided a family member suffers. This is so very common and yet, so unnecessary!

Change, both rewarding and challenging, is to be expected. People who have taken on the care of a loved one need the structure to successfully meet these challenges, while at the same time, balancing their day-to-day lives.

Sometimes all we strive for is someone who can help us to prioritize tasks, create a structure to manage what has so far felt unmanageable and provide a way to ensure that as additional tasks arise, they can also be handled before becoming overwhelming and out of control.

Coaching can occur in one on one sessions, group sessions and most recently, is being used over the phone, called “virtual” coaching. This option, created by new phone technology accessible to all telephone users, has opened the door to the busiest of us who seek the convenience, privacy or simply cannot get out easily due to their caregiving responsibilities.

Life coaching is the perfect solution that combines the care giver’s own agenda with a trained professional who will:

  • help clarify and prioritize tasks,
  • support the development of a personal action plan to facilitate accomplishment of these goals,
  • maintain accountability to the implementation of that plan, and
  • help develop strategies to maintain changes, so caregivers are freed to move on to the additional goals or projects with new-found energy.

Coaches, like those professional athletes use, focus on breakthrough improvements that produce results unattainable without an individually designed workout regimen. In this example, the athlete has a clear physical or skill strengthening goal, the need for a workout and schedule replete with exercises to meet the stated goals, and assurances through on-going coach support and encouragement, that the workout is executed, and revamped, as progress in strength or skill is gained.

Simply put, the family care giver, like the athlete, is similarly strengthened with the support and skill of a coach whose sole purpose is to help the caregiver accomplish the goal of being competent, compassionate and emotionally strong as they care for their aging or disabled loved one.