When a senior or boomer is diagnosed with cancer or another chronic disease, people wonder how to react. There are some reactions which are much more helpful than others. When a friend has such an illness, the whole family is shaken. Any support given to anyone in the family helps the patient also.
What the Senior or Boomer Patient Has Just Gone Through
It all may start with a phone call from the doctor’s office saying more tests are needed. After that, the results are questionable requiring maybe one more test. Then there’s a conference where the patient is told to bring the spouse. It’s the C word – cancer, or some other serious illness. One only has to imagine the terror and roller coaster of emotions the family must feel.
Life is turned upside down with worries about money, isolation, life decisions, and caregiving. All of these and more are on top of life-rending fatigue, grief, and pain. Helplessness and hopelessness are the worst issues to be dealt with upon receiving a troublesome diagnosis.
Good Things to Say to a Senior Diagnosed with a Serious Illness
It usually is not enough just to say “Call me if you need anything” since the patient is not in condition to organize needs and make phone calls. Engage the patient and/or family in short conversations. There will be tears; there must be hugs, and lots of listening.
Effective conversation involves staying in the present since anticipating the future struggles may only bring more anxiety. Share a snack, or just a moment and be aware of being alive right now.
In talking with the patient or family members, accept the fact that they are going through the stages of grief. Don’t argue with their logic; just lend an accepting ear. Keep in mind visits need to be fairly short. It’s better to make two or three short visits rather than one long one. (The patient often won’t admit how very tiresome visits may be, even though they are vitally needed.)
Especially after a few weeks or months, many well wishers have returned to their normal lives, but the patient is still languishing and lonesome. Visits at that time are especially cherished. In addition, sending cards, emails, and notes will remind the patient that his or her friend cares and is sending good thoughts.
Good Things to Do for a Senior Who is Diagnosed with a Chronic Disease
When the patient is home, even more support is needed, but still remember to keep visits fairly short.
- Take over a meal, doing the dishes while there. (Don’t worry about it being your best cooking; they don’t have time or energy to cook, and will be grateful for whatever you bring.)
- Run an errand.
- Take the kids for a movie, an afternoon, the weekend.
- Mow the yard, once or regularly, or band together with several others to do this.
- Take someone to the doctor, chemo, radiation, or whatever is needed.
- Give the caregiver a respite (e.g. tickets to a movie or spa while you stay with the patient).
- Stop by and play a game of cards, a board game, a favorite video game, or watch a movie.
- Take cookies or another favorite food, even non-perishable snacks for the family since kitchen duties suffer in most homes with chronic disease.
- Buy groceries once or regularly, or organize a church, work or social group to do this. For those who have email, the patient or spouse can email a grocery list and the shopper can deliver the groceries on a predetermined day, (One group called themselves the Saturday Shoppers.) There may be people who don’t have time to do the shopping but would contribute to the cost. Find what works.
- Take a portable DVD player with several movies to help pass the long hours in bed.
Tips for Helping Seniors When Weight Loss is an Issue
Sometimes people fighting chronic illness have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Some patients are in a weight loss mode. One way to help is to ask the patient or spouse what favorite foods are, then gather a large supply of them. Be aware of the need for protein, and stay within the prescribed guidelines. Make up a snack box to put by bed or chair so it’s easily reachable by the patient, yet sealed enough to not attract bugs, etc. Include some hand wipes, bottled water, and a trash container in easy reach.
Being diagnosed with a serious disease is quite a challenge for any senior or boomer. There are ways to help by visiting, listening, and providing moral support. Be proactive by acting on the senior patient’s behalf to make life easier by bringing food, doing chores, and sending cards. The very long path toward healing can be made so much better by caring and participation of friends.
Source: Much of the information herein came from a lay sermon given by CanCare volunteer Debbie Racobs at the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist church on November 12, 2006, and from a support group at the same location.