Potential Roles for the Family Caregiver
Hands-on Care Provider
Pain and symptom management is a major focus of the caregiver's role. Caregivers frequently dispense pain medication or remind the patient to take a scheduled dose, which requires making decisions about which medication to give, when to give it, and what dose to give. It often falls to the caregiver to keep records and control the technical aspects of managing pain and other symptoms.
If the patient is homebound or unable to move around with ease, the caregiver will often fill and refill medication prescriptions, try to follow medical instructions, and anticipate the need for medication refills ahead of time. In addition to managing the patient's treatment regimen, the caregiver is expected to identify and report treatment side effects or new symptoms.
As they move along the disease trajectory, cancer patients may face an array of other side effects and symptoms:
- Fatigue, drowsiness, and sleep problems have been reported in 51% to 68% of cancer patients. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Fatigue and Sleep Disorders for more information about fatigue and sleep problems in cancer patients.)
- Nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and cachexia have been reported in 10% to 40% of patients. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Nausea and Vomiting and Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information about nausea and vomiting, anorexia, and other nutrition needs.)
- Reports of anxiety, mood disorder, and depression are well documented in 25% to 50% of cancer patients. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress and Depression for more information about anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.)
Management of these complicated side effects frequently falls to the caregiver in the outpatient setting.
The social impact of cancer and pain can be ameliorated by social support, financial security, and stability at work. Given the increasingly chronic nature of cancer, caregivers may find that support in all of these areas erodes over time. Encouraging caregivers to network with other families and linking them with formal resources can help augment informal sources of social support. Caregivers can be encouraged to search for national caregiver groups and disease-specific organizations online.
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