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Essential First Aid Tips For Cancer Caregivers

First aid is an essential skill — however, 70% of Americans feel unprepared for a cardiac emergency because they either don’t know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed. It’s important for caregivers of cancer patients to be trained in first aid, so they’re fully-prepared and ready to act in emergency situations. This includes knowing how to administer CPR, looking out for the common signs of infection, and helping patients manage the emotional symptoms of cancer.

Administering CPR

Chemotherapy damages healthy cells in the body, including cells in and near the heart. As a result, cardiac toxicity and conditions like arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy (the heart struggling to send blood around the body), angina (chest pain), and myocarditis (inflammation of the muscular layer of the heart wall) can occur. In these situations, a cancer patient may need CPR, which, if unsuccessful, may need to be followed up with an AED (automated external defibrillator). An AED can help restart the patient’s heart and re-establish the natural rhythm of the heartbeat. First aid training is essential for anyone caring for cancer patients as it covers how to administer CPR correctly. Caregivers should also inform themselves of the patient’s resuscitation wishes in advance.

Preventing infection

Cancer and cancer treatment weakens the immune system, which in turn increases a patient’s risk of infection. Additionally, cancer patients can have a low white blood cell count (neutropenia), which further weakens the body’s ability to fight infection. Symptoms of infection to look out for in cancer patients can include: fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, belly pain, and chills potentially followed by sweating. In this case, caregivers should check the patient’s temperature with a thermometer, keep the patient hydrated, and help them take their medication on schedule. If the patient has a high or low temperature, can’t take fluids, or simply doesn’t seem “right,” take them to the emergency room and let the staff know they’re in treatment for cancer.

Emotional first aid

One third of all cancer patients experience high levels of mental or emotional distress that meets the strict diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, including depression or anxiety. As such, emotional first aid becomes an important part of caring for cancer patients and their emotional health. In particular, anxiety can result in shortness of breath, hyperventilation, and chest pain. It’s therefore essential to learn deep breathing techniques to help affected patients stay as calm and pain-free as possible. Alternatively, depression can manifest symptoms like low mood, irritability, insomnia, excess sleepiness, and suicidal thoughts. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of depression and begin an open dialogue with the affected individual to provide them with support and treatment if necessary.

First aid knowledge and skills are an essential part of caring for people with cancer. It’s important caregivers have the right first aid training, knowledge, and skills to help patients in emergency situations.

Medication Maintenance Tips for Caregivers

Managing medications can be difficult to do, especially if you’re a senior caregiver. Helping someone else remember to take medications on time and work to find the right balance for them can seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, we’ve got a list of tips and tricks to help make things flow more smoothly.

Make Sure Providers Are Aware Of Vitamins And Supplements

Medical providers should be aware of any vitamins and supplements a person is taking. Regardless of how natural they are, they can interfere with medications and other treatments. For example, someone on blood thinners should not be taking a supplement with vitamin K. Most blood thinners work by inhibiting the production of this vitamin in the body. Taking a vitamin K supplement can negate the work of blood thinners.

Instructions

Make sure to go over medication instructions with the senior you’re caring for. If they are able to, they should know the names of each medication along with dosages and what times to take them. It doesn’t hurt to type up instructions about medications so that all information is in one place and easy to access. Consider adding in what side effects they should seek help for. That can serve as a list for caregivers and seniors to check on in case of adverse events.

Alarms

Set alarms to remind seniors to take their medications. There are many options to choose from. Smartphones allow you to set up reminders with different sounds each time which can help people differentiate between medication doses and other alerts. Electronic personal assistants like Alexa or Google Home can easily be used for reminders as well. If the senior you’re caring for struggles with newer technology, consider a few alarm clocks around the home.

Keep A List

Keeping a list of medications can help seniors and caregivers alike remember what medications are due at what time. Lists that have both a visual of what the medications look like and allow people to check off a medication dose can be useful tools. If you’re going with this kind of list, make sure that you have multiple copies. Placing one next to a pill organizer and another on the fridge can help remind people to take medication before they’ve even missed a dose.

Smartphone apps can also be helpful in tracking this information.

Follow Up

It’s important not to just set alarms or reminders, but check in to ensure that someone has taken their medication. It can be easy to turn off an alarm and still forget to take medication as scheduled. Following up with the senior in your life can remind them that they didn’t take their most recent dose.

Store Medications Properly

Most medications do best when stored between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, many of them need to avoid humidity, direct sunlight and more. Medications should not be stored in vehicles, on windowsills or other sunny and warm spots or even in the bathroom. Consider storing them in a cool, dry space in the kitchen or living space.

When medications aren’t stored properly, it can affect their potency and make them potentially dangerous. If you’re concerned that your senior’s medications have been affected, here’s what you need to watch out for:

  • Odd smells
  • Discolored pills, tablets and injections
  • Cracked or crumbled pills
  • Pills and tablets that are stuck together
  • Creams and ointments that show separation
  • Cloudy injections

If you see these signs, contact your senior’s pharmacist as soon as possible.

Sort Medications Into Pill Organizers

Set aside time each week to go through the medication your senior takes and place them into pill organizers. These can make it easier to remember to take medications as prescribed or even transport them while traveling. Some organizers can remind people to take their medications and even alert others that a dose has been missed.

Make Sure All Caregivers Know About Medications

A sure way to have seniors miss their medication doses is to have senior caregivers who aren’t on the same page. Without everyone being in the know, it becomes increasingly difficult to set reminders and follow up with seniors about medication doses.

Plan Ahead For Refill Needs

Refills may come up on days where a senior is alone. When that’s the case, they may forget or be unable to pick up their refilled medications. Refills may even be due when someone is planning to be out of town. Make sure to plan ahead adequately for refills and work with a person’s pharmacist.

Consider Compounding Medications If Needed

Compounding is a process where medication is tailored to a person’s specific needs. This can help remove any dyes a patient is allergic to or turn a pill into liquid for those who struggle with swallowing pills.

Get Tips from A Medical Provider

When methods to help your senior aren’t working as well as you had hoped, take some time to check in with their medical providers. Nurses have amassed a wealth of information on improving their patients’ quality of life. They are likely to have some ideas on how to make managing medications more effective.

Always Communicate With Family Members

Whatever steps you take to maintain a senior’s medication schedule, make sure that you’re communicating any difficulties with the senior’s loved ones. Family should also always be aware of any medication changes. When so many seniors rely on a variety of paid and family caregivers, it’s incredibly important for everyone to be in the loop on the storage, administration and organization of all medications, vitamins and supplements.

Notable News: November 2018

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and if ever there were a cancer that needed an awareness month, it’s lung cancer. Sometimes referred to as the invisible cancer, lung cancer is a disease caught up in a smoke cloud of misconceptions, and those misconceptions can prevent patients from early detection, treatment, and support. Several of the myths and misconceptions about lung cancer are addressed and dispelled in a recent article at fredhutch.org. One of the main myths is that you only need to worry about lung cancer if you are or ever were a smoker. That’s simply not true. In fact, people who have never smoked can get lung cancer, and it can be a genetic disease. Other myths include the belief that there are no early detection screening processes and that there has been no progress in lung cancer research. While it’s true that other cancers seem to have more screening options and better prognosis, advancements are being made in lung cancer. Organizations such as Patient Empowerment Network are making progress in building awareness and reducing the stigmas about lung cancer. See the rest of the myths and misconceptions and how they are dispelled here.

There is nothing sweet about having lung cancer, but there may be a sugary clue that could lead to earlier detection, reports forbes.com. Researchers have discovered that early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors and precancerous lesions produce high levels of a molecule that they use to consume sugar to help fuel their growth. The molecule, called SGLT2, could be used to detect early stage NSCLC. Researchers also found that a diabetes drug, which blocks SGLT2, also prevented tumor progression in mice, which shows promise for possible future treatment of NSCLC. Further studies of SGLT2 could hinder the development of malignant NSCLC, and more information about this hopeful development can be found here.

Another hopeful lung cancer development comes in the form of a hot needle, reports dailymail.co.uk. The treatment, called radio frequency ablation, is being used to diagnose and treat difficult-to-reach tumors. In addition to being able to destroy the tumor by heating it up with radio frequency energy, doctors are able to use the needle to remove part of the tumor for biopsy. The needle works in place of attempting to access the tumors through invasive surgery. The hot-needle treatment is considered safe for repeated use, and a report showed that half of the patients treated with the hot needle survived at least five years. More information about this hot new treatment can be found here.

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that November is also National Family Caregiver’s Month. There are approximately 43.5 million unpaid caregivers in the United States and they are a critical component of a cancer patient’s journey. It is important for caregivers to make sure they are practicing self-care as well, and there are a number of resources available to them to help ensure caregivers have the information they need to care for their loved ones and themselves. The PEN Path to Patient Empowerment guide provides resources for care partners, including links to the Family Caregiver Alliance website and the American Cancer Society Caregiver Resource Guide. Chock full of information for caregivers about caregivers and the patients they care for, these resources are a must have for any caregiver and can be found here and here.

Oh, and November is also the month where we give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving from the PEN Family to your Family. We are thankful for you!

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