More than 60% of new cancers are diagnosed in people 65 years or older. Patients in this age group often face challenges, such as:
- Loss of independence
- Financial hardship
- Difficulty with mobility
Although people may experience these stressors at any age, older patients are at an increased risk of encountering them simultaneously, with fewer resources to address them.
As a social work counselor in MD Anderson’s Gastrointestinal Center, Heather Valladarez sees many elderly patients facing common barriers. “Many struggle to balance cancer treatment with other health care needs,” she says.
“Others need help with advanced care planning — for example, assistance in getting more care in the home or moving to a nursing home after treatment, or with completing advance directives. And quite a few have trouble managing and accessing medications.”
Aging With Cancer support group
To address these concerns, Valladarez and Midge Myhre, a social work counselor in MD Anderson’s Emergency Center, created a support group for cancer patients 65 and older and their caregivers. Called Aging With Cancer, the group launched in September.
At the monthly meetings, experts from MD Anderson and the health care community discuss geriatric-specific concerns and provide information on available community resources.
Valladarez and Myhre hope the support group helps foster relationships between MD Anderson patients, creating a support network that extends beyond the meetings.
“We want them to connect, to learn from each other and to realize they’re not alone,” Valladarez says.