Family Caregivers in Cancer (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Roles for the Family Caregiver
The family caregiver knows and understands the needs of the patient. The caregiver becomes an advocate for the patient by giving this information to the health care team. Although a caregiver may not have a medical background, daily contact with the patient gives the caregiver important information that helps the health care team help the patient. Information about the patient's symptoms and problems can help the doctor make better treatment plans and improve the patient's chance of getting better.
As the patient's advocate, the family caregiver may do the following:
- Talk with the health care team about the patient's needs and wishes for the patient.
- Get information that may be hard to find.
- Find doctors and specialists needed.
- Watch the patient for changes and problems.
- Help the patient follow treatments.
- Tell the health care team about any new symptoms or side effects and ask for help to treat them.
- Help the patient make healthy changes and follow healthy behaviors.
- Pay the patient's bills and take care of insurance claims.
Good communication between the doctor, patient, and caregiver can improve the patient's health and medical care. The family caregiver will often take on the role of speaking for the patient while keeping the patient included in decision making. Good communication helps both the doctor and the caregiver get the information they need to support the patient. Doctors need to hear about patients' concerns and caregivers need to understand the disease and treatment options. Poor communication may cause confusion about treatment. This can affect choices made about treatment and the patient's chance of getting better.
Cultural differences between the doctors and the caregiver or patient can affect communication. In some cultures, it is the custom to keep a life-threatening diagnosis a secret from the patient and avoid talking about the disease. Sometimes it is left to the caregiver to tell the patient the truth about a serious or terminal illness. This can be stressful for caregivers and increase their feelings of loneliness and responsibility. Caregivers should tell the health care team if they think cultural beliefs may affect how they talk about the cancer and making treatment decisions.