Improving Communication

CURE, Fall 2012, Volume 11, Issue 3

Communication is key when caring for a cancer patient with a mental illness.

Mental illness or severe cognitive impairment can impede communication between caregiver and patient. This, in turn, may make it more difficult for a caregiver to determine whether the patient is in pain. Here are a few helpful tips:

> If the patient is unable to communicate verbally, look for nonverbal cues that may indicate he or she is experiencing discomfort or pain, suggests Jo McCord of the Family Caregiver Alliance. This may include grimacing when touched or sudden, unexplained agitation.

> Chronic restlessness, sudden weight loss and changes in sleep or appetite may also communicate pain or discomfort from a physical problem, such as infection, McCord says.

> Caregivers who are around the patient 24/7 should be aware that some changes, such as weight loss or sleep difficulties, may be so gradual or subtle that they go unnoticed by the caregiver. If a third party comments, consult with the patient’s care team right away.

> Call the doctor immediately if an uncommunicative patient exhibits a sudden and dramatic physical or behavioral change, McCord says. This could indicate a serious medical condition.