Practical Tips For Caregivers

by Jane Ashley

Most of us are not prepared for the responsibilities that we assume when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. We instantly become a “CAREGIVER” — we don’t have any experience for role we are about to assume.

Help With Bathing

Just remember that every patient’s reactions to treatment are different — it helps to be flexible and adjust your routine as different needs arise. Never refuse an offer for help. Cancer treatment can take a long time. Accepting help from others will help prevent caretaker burnout.

Many of the tasks that we perform as caregivers are physical so let’s look at practical ways to help your loved one.

Personal hygiene. Daily hygiene is an integral part of taking care of someone who is physically sick. They may not feel like bathing or showering, but good hygiene helps your loved one feel better and protects their skin.

• Respect their desire for privacy while assuring them that you love them and want to help.
• Keep bath or shower water at a comfortable temperature.
• Make sure that the bathroom is warm enough. An oil radiator is an affordable and safe option to use in the bathroom.
• Use a mild soap and moisturize dry skin.
• Be gentle on the scalp – patients who are losing their hair from treatment have sensitive scalps.

Grooming. Grooming is that little extra step beyond personal hygiene. Helping your loved one feel good about themselves and their appearance goes a long way in maintaining their self-esteem.

• Use sunscreen whenever they are going outside. Both chemo and radiation treatments make a patient more sensitive to the sun.
• Trim fingernails and toenails. If your loved one has diabetes, it’s wise to have a podiatrist trim your loved one’s toenails and check for potential foot problems from their diabetes.
• Offer to paint your loved one’s fingernails or toenails. Avoid public salons due to risk of infections. Cuticles are likely to be dry — daily use of a good-quality cuticle cream or oil helps prevent broken skin.
• Encourage your loved one to use a moisturizing hand lotion like Curel or Jergens.
• Use an electric razor or a Gillette Treo , the first razor made specifically to shave someone else.
• Comfy clothes are a must. Cottons are often more comfortable than polyester blends for sensitive skin. Cancer patients are sensitive to the cold — some chemo drugs make cold sensitivity worse. Be sure your loved one has warm gloves, a comfortable knit hat, and a couple of fleece jackets and pants. Don’t forget warm socks.
• If you loved one has lost or gained weight, make sure that they have clothes that fit and are comfortable. Make sure that their pants or jeans fit well.
• Offer to help with their makeup. Nothing perks up a woman’s feelings more than some lipstick.
• Provide lip moisturizer, like ChapStick® or Burt’s Bee lip balm .

Mouth hygiene. Chemotherapy or radiation may cause mouth and dental problems for your loved one. Be sure to listen to any mouth complaints that they express.

Mouth Hygiene

• Mouth sore and infections are common so remind your loved one to brush their teeth after eating.
• Switch to a soft-bristle toothbrush to avoid bleeding gums.
• Use an alcohol-free mouthwash or use baking soda and water as a mouthwash.
• If your loved one develops mouth sores, call the oncologist — they can prescribe a special mouthwash to help the mouth sores heal. These mouth sores are painful and can affect your loved one’s ability to eat.

Eat, food and appetite. Fatigue and nausea may decrease your loved one’s appetite. As the caregiver, not only do you have to cook and provide meals for your loved one, you also have to coddle and cajole your loved one to eat enough to avoid weight and muscle loss.

Comfort Food

• Ask the oncologist if there are specific foods that your loved one shouldn’t eat.
• Remember that a patient’s taste buds change during treatment. Our favorite foods might not be our favorites any more.
• Your loved one may have their best appetite earlier in the day before they get tired. Breakfast or brunch might be their biggest meal — try to accommodate by determining when they feel most hungry.
• Offer small meals more often. Many patients learn that they can eat smaller amounts more frequently. Try a grilled cheese sandwich using only one slice of bread but with the same amount of cheese.
• Have some liquid meal replacements on hand. Served cold and blended with some ice cream might work for your finicky eater.
• Serve whole dairy products. Usually, they are easy to digest and contain easily-digestible dairy fats. Sprinkle cheese on top of veggies. Use butter, sour cream and cheese on a small baked potato. Greek and Icelandic yogurt are high in protein — cancer patients need more protein to help rebuild muscles.
• Use beef or chicken bone broth in soups and gravies. Bone broth has 10 grams of protein in a one-cup serving. It’s much tastier than canned broth. And it helps with gut health.
• Practice food safety — many cancer patients have lower white blood cell counts causing them to be more prone to infections. Wash fruits and vegetables. Always buy pasteurized milk and juice products.

Don’t forget social activities. Never forget that we, as cancer patients, are still the same person. We can still laugh and enjoy our favorite activities. We might not feel “great” every day, yet we are still the same person that you have loved. But we are carrying the emotional and physical burden of a serious, life-threatening disease. It might cause us some depression. We might get angry sometimes because we are so frustrated because we don’t have any control over our circumstances. But we still want to be included in activities whenever our energy levels permit us to do special things.

Comfortable Clothing

• When the weather is beautiful, go for walks together.
• Go out for coffee or an ice cream sundae.
• If your loved one enjoys reading, consider investing in a Kindle and link it to your Amazon account so that your loved one can download books that they would enjoy reading.
• Ask a relative to host family dinners and get-togethers so that your Mom, your sister, your daughter doesn’t feel the pressure to host an event. Make that famous dish together and take it so they will still feel included and part of the family.
• Invite your loved one’s friends over for a buffet lunch or afternoon coffee and dessert — don’t surprise your loved one. Plan a little event together.

Walk Together

Final tips. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Caregiving in addition to a full-time job takes lots of energy. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat healthy so you’ll be able to continue your caregiver role. Take a break when you feel overwhelmed.

The Bottom Line …
Most caregivers agree that although caregiving is a 24/7 job that being a caregiver is one of the most rewarding things that they ever did.

Here is a great video series for caregivers from the American Cancer Society. They cover a lot of the common issues caregivers will face while taking care of a cancer patient. 

If you are a caregiver click the photo below to join WhatNext. There are lots of caregivers registered that can help you along by answering your questions and sharing their own personal experiences with caring for a cancer patient. 

Click To Join Us At What Next (1)

Blog Home