This month is Cancer Awareness month, when it is important to recall what we know about this insidious disease, the many forms it takes and the ways that we can help to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Cancer is not just one disease, but over 100 different diseases affecting different parts of the body. In essence, it is an uncontrolled growth of cells that can form tumors. Malignant tumors spread within the body’s organs and ultimately threaten the life of the person affected.
Healthy living through careful diet, regular exercise and avoiding smoking are well-known ways of reducing your risk of cancer – but sadly, many people are genetically predisposed to getting them. There is no 100 percent guaranteed way to avoid cancer, but early detection can at least improve the chances of successful response through chemotherapy or other treatments. Learn more about the causes, types and ways to prevent cancer.
How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Changes Your Brain
In addition to the well-known physical changes and decline that we associate with cancer, our professional caregivers know well about the cognitive problems that can afflict cancer patients. It is a tragedy that at the very time one needs the will and clarity of mind to help overcome their physical challenges, their mental abilities can be hindered.
While undergoing chemotherapy, patients often experience tiredness and difficulty in completing simple tasks. Similar to those with mild forms of dementia, they can have worsened short-term memory and be unable to finish their thoughts while speaking.
Symptoms of delirium can be mistaken for dementia – and irritatingly for both the sufferer and those trying to provide quality care, these symptoms may come and go without any predictable pattern. It is very common in those who are experiencing complications from cancer treatment or from the tumors themselves. It often afflicts those who are hospitalized for cancer treatment and those who have only a few weeks left to live.
Those suffering from delirium may not be as alert as usual, have difficulty concentrating and may experience agitation and general confusion. Normal sleep patterns can be disrupted.
How to Help Cancer Patients Dealing with Cognitive Disorders
Caregivers may already feel challenged just helping their clients deal with the physical symptoms of cancer treatment, but they must still take greater care to help alleviate cognitive problems:
- Ensure the client is in a comfortable, reassuring environment. Little details can make a big difference here, such as providing photos of family and other objects with sentimental value.
- These patients may become quite anxious about losing their sense of time as their internal body clock becomes less effective. Provide a digital clock and easy-to-read, marked calendar to help reassure them.
- Monitor the patient’s medication intake. Sometimes symptoms of delirium can be controlled with certain medications; at the same time, some medications may actually cause confusion in patients. It does no good for your client if you’re ensuring they take medicine that’s actually doing harm – and the physician will want to know their reactions, so that they can adjust any pharmaceutical therapy if needed.
For clients with cancer, the aim is to do all you can to alleviate both physical and mental symptoms – and give them a better quality of life.