Older adults are the fastest-growing population segment in the United States, with their numbers expected to double by 2030. It is projected that this growth will result in a 45% increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer. In order to provide the best outcomes for this population, we must acknowledge and address the unique challenges older adult patients and caregivers face in the cancer experience.
A cancer diagnosis at any age can bring on feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and depression. These feelings may be compounded in adults already grappling with psychological and social issues related to aging and becoming more dependent on others. In addition to these concerns, older adults facing cancer may also be managing comorbid health issues and age-related cognitive challenges.
Loss is another factor. This can refer to the loss of independence and loss of health, physical and psychosocial. In addition, patients and caregivers may be coping with stress related to physical aspects of diagnosis and treatment, lack of support, spiritual concerns, lack of resources, and financial concerns. Many older patients and caregivers struggle to adjust to these changes, which affect identity and meaning. As oncology health professionals, we are in the unique position to provide care and support.
The Institute of Medicine’s comprehensive 2013 report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis, addresses the rapidly changing landscape of cancer care and provides recommendations to meet the needs of the older adult-patient population.1 The report highlights what many oncology health professionals experience as we work with older adults to navigate their care.