Caring for a patient with cancer affects the family caregiver's quality of life.
Family caregivers usually begin caregiving without training and are expected to meet many demands without much help. A caregiver often neglects his or her own quality of life by putting the patient's needs first. Today, many health care providers watch for signs of caregiver distress during the course of the patient's cancer treatment. When caregiver strain affects the quality of caregiving, the patient's well-being is also affected. Helping the caregiver also helps the patient.
Note: This Stage Information section has been updated to include information from the seventh edition (2010) of the American Joint Committee on Cancer's AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. The PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board, which is responsible for maintaining this summary, is currently reviewing the new staging categories to determine whether additional changes need to be made to other parts of the summary. Any necessary changes will be made as soon as possible.
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Caregiving can affect the caregiver's quality of life in many areas.
The caregiver's well-being is affected in many areas. These include psychological, physical, social, financial, and spiritual.
Psychological distress is the most common effect of caregiving on the caregiver's quality of life. Caring for a cancer patient is a difficult and stressful job. Caregiver distress comes from the practical demands of the caregiver role as well the emotional ones, such as seeing the patient suffer. Family members seeing a loved one with cancer may feel as much or more distress than the patient does. Distress is usually worse when the cancer is advanced and the patient is no longer being treated to cure the cancer.
Caregivers who have health problems of their own or demands from other parts of their lives may enter the caregiving role already overwhelmed. For an older adult caregiver, problems that are a part of aging may make caregiving harder to handle.
The caregiver's ability to cope with distress may be affected by his or her personality type. Someone who is usually hopeful and positive may cope better with problems of caregiving.
Cancer patients often need a lot of physical help during their illness. This is physically demanding for the caregiver, who may need to help the patient with many activities during the day such as:
Use the toilet.
Change position in bed.
Move from one place to another, such as from bed to toilet.
Use medical equipment.
The amount of physical help a patient needs depends on the following:
Whether the patient can do normal activities of daily living, like dressing and walking.
Side effects of the cancer and the cancer treatments.
As caregivers try to meet the physical demands of caregiving, they may not get enough rest and may not take care of their own health. Healthy habits such as exercise, a healthy diet, and regular medical checkups may be pushed to the side. Health problems the caregiver already has may become worse, or they may have new health problems.
Caregivers often have less time to spend with friends and in the community as their days are filled with caring for the cancer patient. If there are problems in the relationship between the caregiver and the patient, the caregiver may feel even more alone.