Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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Older people, family and public policy

Today’s guest blog is from Kirsty Woodard of Ageing Without Children:

The assumption that all older people have family is deeply embedded in our thinking, policy and delivery of care. Think of all the solutions to issues associated with ageing that start with “talk to older people and their families”. This is largely understandable; 92 per cent of unpaid care is carried out by family members; however there are already 1 million people over the age of 65 who have never been parents which will double to 2 million by 2030. Still more older people are estranged from their children, have been predeceased by them or have children in no position to support them for a variety of reasons. Add to this the growing number of older people who are single, widowed or divorced (the rate of divorce in people over 50 is rising faster than any other age group) and it is clear that an unprecedented demographic shift is taking place. More older people than ever before are living longer but are not and will not be in a position to rely on family support.

There is often an assumption that older people without children have developed good relationships with wider kin and have strong friendship networks that can step in and substitute for family. Unfortunately, the research to date shows that this only works when older people are healthy and need short term or one-off support. If or when people’s health deteriorates and care needs increase, these wider networks fall away just at the time they are needed most.

The reality of care for people without children

Unfortunately thinking and planning on care has not yet caught up with this reality. For example, 80 per cent of older people with disabilities are cared for by either their spouse or child yet the number of older people with disabilities who live alone and have no child is projected to increase rapidly, rising by nearly 80 per cent between 2007 and 2032. Evidence shows that people ageing without children receive less unpaid care than those with children and consequently are forced to rely on paid for care yet access to social care has never been so limited. People ageing without children are 25 per cent more likely to go into residential care but the residential care sector in the UK is in parlous state.  People without children are up to a third more likely to be carers for their own elderly parents but there is little focus on their specific needs as carers ageing knowing there is no adult child to support them.

As a society we must plan care around the population we have now and will in the future, not one from the past. Exhortations for families to do more not only belie the huge amount families are doing providing care and support but exclude those without.

So what can we do?

Firstly, we need to review our care services from the point of older people doing everything entirely without support from family. This includes everything from finding out information to getting their washing things in the event of unplanned hospital admission to creating a lasting power of attorney to arranging hospital discharge to searching for a care home. Only then can we see how much family support is required to make the system work and where we need to change things so it works for those without. Care services that work for people without family support will work far better for people who do have family too

Secondly, care services must make a greater effort to understand why so many more people are ageing without children and the issues that face them. It is not possible to design services that work if you do not understand the people you are designing them for. People ageing without children must be included in all co-production and planning on ageing as a matter of course.

Thirdly services must consider their use of language. Branding services with “grandparent/grans/grannies” unless they specifically mean only grandparents should use them exclude older people who are not and never will be grandparents.

Fourthly, people ageing without children should be supported to form groups both on and off line where they come together to form peer support networks. People ageing without children want to help themselves and each other.

Fifthly, the gap around advocacy must be addressed. People ageing without children have been very clear on their fears of an old age without a child to act as their intermediary and advocate in their dealings with care services particularly if they become incapacitated mentally or physically.

Finally, everyone, both people ageing without children and those who do have family, should be helped to plan for their later life.

People ageing without children must be brought into mainstream thinking on ageing. By working collectively we can as individuals, communities and wider society address the needs of older people without children or any family support. Only by working together can we care differently for people ageing without children.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the blog’s author alone and do not necessarily represent those of OPAAL (UK). OPAAL (UK) is not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied in blogs by external contributors.

Kirsty Woodard, Ageing Without Children

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The transition from professional to volunteer which brings a wealth of expertise

The volunteers who have shared their stories in Time: Our Gift to You come from all walks of life but I felt it was significant that several were retired Health or Social Care Professionals.   I wanted to know more about what motivates them to train as an advocate so I asked Mike Goodman, a newly retired Clinical Nurse Specialist who joined Dorset Macmillan Advocacy last year, why he volunteers and what he feels former Health Professionals in particular can bring to the role. Kathleen Gillett, Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

‘I was interested in becoming an advocate because, despite being retired, I still have an interest in helping people live with and recover from a diagnosis of cancer. After many years as a health professional you do build up a wealth of expertise and numerous medical contacts which it seems a waste to suddenly abandon just because you retire. The transition from professional to volunteer is a tricky one and it can be rather easy to slip back into a formal or professional approach to a situation rather than acting and speaking as a lay person – or simply imagining being the patient. However empathetic professionals think they are, because they have been trained/educated and because they are busy they quickly slip into “professional” mode and forget just what it is like being a confused, slightly scared, often lonely recipient of health care services.

Mike Goodman

I am sure advocates can be effective whether they have been cancer patients themselves, or have been the carer of someone with cancer or have been health care professionals. All those experiences will enable you to be a help and support. They would all bring different skills and abilities to the many and varied problems that the cancer partner is grappling with. Probably the greatest skill lies with the Macmillan Senior Advocate or Volunteer Coordinator in choosing which advocate to link up with each new partner.

Health Care professionals do have the ability to understand how the wheels turn in a hospital department or what a GP really needs to know in order to change the experience for a patient who is in a crisis. They will understand that it is hard to get something done on a Friday afternoon when most departments in a hospital are winding down for the weekend or that a referral between teams will have to go through an MDT meeting before a decision is made. Explaining that there is no simple blood test or screening process for some cancers comes as a shock to some people in the community who are reading the tabloids and grasping at every tiny news item that has the word cancer in its headline.

Retired professionals can play an important role in advocacy but, at the end of the day, it is that human touch, that word of encouragement, that listening ear that every person affected by cancer needs and wants and that is a role that every advocate seeks to fulfil.’

Mike Goodman, retired CNS.

Our thanks to Mike for sharing his thoughts.


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Face to face support has the most impact

What stops health professionals signposting to services like our peer advocacy support service? In today’s post Kathleen Gillett of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy tells us what some Macmillan Health Professionals feel is the reason:

There are over 9000 Macmillan professionals working across the UK in a wide range of roles. Those of us in cancer advocacy services that are funded directly by Macmillan Cancer Support are labelled Macmillan professionals. Once a year we are invited by Macmillan to a national conference and I was fortunate to attend for the first time last autumn.

Lynda Thomas, CEO of Macmillan welcomed the 300 participants and began her keynote speech with some statistics.  In 2015 Macmillan reached 5.8M people in total and Macmillan professionals supported 600,000 people.

Lynda said that in her view face to face support is the most impactful. I see the impact that our peer volunteers have every day by actually being there in person for their advocacy partner and I couldn’t agree more.  She went on to say that her aim is to focus on areas of most severe need and on what makes the biggest impact.  She believes that the best services and support need to be local and need to understand the needs of the local population.

The majority of Macmillan professionals are in clinical roles and this was reflected in the attendance at the conference. There were two representatives of the Cancer Older People and Advocacy projects, me and Kath Curley from Staffordshire and Wolverhampton Cancer Advocacy at the Beth Johnson Foundation as well as a number of Macmillan Welfare Benefits Advisors from across the country and the team of Support Workers at Brain Tumour Support who are funded by Macmillan.

2 Kaths for the price of one - Kath Curley & Kathleen Gillett

Kath Curley, Staffs and Wolverhampton Cancer Advocacy and Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

Every year conference delegates are asked a number of questions and respond with live voting gadgets. The first 2016 question was ‘What is the biggest barrier to Macmillan professionals in signposting people affected by cancer to sources of support in the voluntary and community sector?’  This question appeared to be aimed at the Health professionals. The top three answers from options given were: 33% Lack of knowledge of what is available; 25% Holistic Needs Assessment (HNA) is not routinely done; and 25% Health leaders and managers don’t see it as the responsibility of Health professionals.

The question which led on from this “What would make the biggest difference to help Macmillan professionals to signpost to support?” saw 56% respond Access to clear information on what is available, how and where to signpost to;  and 24% respond HNA.

I took away from this that Macmillan professionals in clinical roles want to signpost to support outside of Health but don’t yet feel that they have an easy way of finding out what support is out there and what the most appropriate time to refer would be.  Those of us providing services such as peer volunteer advocacy have not always found it easy to make those working in Health aware of our service and to find opportunities to educate them to understand the benefits of advocacy and its relevance at all stages in the cancer journey.  At the next conference in autumn 2017 Macmillan Cancer Support will report back to delegates on the steps it has taken to improve access to this knowledge.

Kathleen Gillett, Macmillan Project Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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‘Health literacy’ and ‘Patient activation’

Kathleen Gillett from programme partner Dorset Macmillan Advocacy writes in the first of two posts about how our peer advocates can support older people affected by cancer achieve voice, choice and control in their cancer journey:

I recently read the terms ‘health literacy’ and ‘patient activation’ in a report by Macmillan Cancer Support and found them useful labels for ideas that had been floating about in my head. 

Let’s talk about it: Improving information and support describes the role of health literacy and patient activation in a chapter on Improved Communication.

‘Poor reading and comprehension skills are not always taken into account when providing accessible information and support, with serious implications for health inequalities and outcomes. While the problem of functional literacy remains a huge challenge, it is possible to be fully literate and yet health illiterate. Health literacy concerns the ability to read, understand and act on health information, as well as navigate the health and social care system.’

Practically, low health literacy can impact on patients in a number of ways. These include their ability to follow treatment plans, seek support, participate in consultations, understand performance data, understand the implications of provided information, and communicate their own values and needs. Individuals vary in their level of patient activation – the measure of a person’s skills, confidence and knowledge to manage their own health.’

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It helps me to relate theory to practice and I thought of two people that we supported in the early days of Dorset Macmillan Advocacy.

The first advocacy partner described herself as having been ‘a poor scholar’. She disliked written information and kept hospital paperwork out of sight. You could say her level of general literacy was low.  Her health literacy or her ability to understand her condition, her treatment plan and its implications risked being affected by her general literacy.  She knew that verbal processing of information through discussion worked much better for her.  She had been able to ask a health professional for a translation into plain English ‘Does that mean…?’  With her advocate she was able to discuss her condition and the implication of treatment options at several key stages of her journey. She said that having an advocate also boosted her confidence.

The second advocacy partner sought to increase his level of health literacy. He undertook extensive internet research into his condition and travelled to see a specialist.  He also had a very strong level of patient activation.  In other words he was strongly motivated to be actively involved in clinical treatment decisions and make lifestyle changes that he judged to be beneficial to his situation.  However his responsibilities as a carer presented a physical barrier that also put him under huge emotional strain.  His advocate worked with him to put arrangements in place that permitted him to move forward with his own treatment.

The two people described had different cancers, different personal circumstances and different personalities but both benefited from advocacy support which is always tailored to each individual’s needs and situation.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


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“everyone my client met treated her with dignity and respect”

Susan, one of our volunteer advocates, gives us a moving account of supporting one older person affected by cancer:

I am a volunteer advocate from Getting Heard (formerly Oxfordshire Advocacy) and a Cancer Older People and Advocacy volunteer, and one of my partnerships had significant interactions with the multi-disciplinary and multi-professional team. At each interaction, I as the advocate, was made very welcome and at no time did my client or I feel rushed, intimidated or feel that my client’s views were not taken into account. My client was involved in all decisions and staff took her views and concerns very seriously when developing her management plan, and she and I recognised that this was holistic patient centred care. Interactions with professionals and all other staff was extremely positive, medical and nursing staff welcomed the advocate when the role and responsibilities were explained, recognising the emotional and practical support available for the patient.

Susan

Susan

The specialist nurse made the initial referral as she was aware that my client lacked support attending consultations. I supported my client when she attended the gynaecology outpatients department for her first consultation with the surgeon following a diagnosis of uterine cancer. My client was determined that she was not going to undergo chemotherapy and my role was to support her achieve her wishes. Both the surgeon and specialist nurse listened to my client and when I intervened to clarify what was being said and questioned whether she understood the impact of her decisions, both clinicians were supportive of my client’s wishes.    

I supported my client pre-operatively and interacted with the nursing and support staff. At the post-operative consultation following keyhole surgery, she was seen by the consultant gynaecologist when she was informed that the cancer was invasive and they had been unable to remove it completely. My role was to support my client reiterate to the consultant that she did not want chemotherapy but agreed to have radiotherapy.

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By her first oncology consultation my client’s physical condition had deteriorated and she had developed further symptoms, and the oncologist decided that she should have more investigations including a CT scan. By the second oncology consultation CT scan results indicated further spread, and the plan was for four sessions of palliative radiotherapy. My client asked me to attend a meeting at home with the hospice specialist nurse for moral support, at the meeting the specialist nurse discussed hospice support and pain management. I attended her first two radiotherapy sessions, however by the 2nd session she had increasing pain and discomfort, weakness, urinary and bowel symptoms. By attending the radiology department, I was able to give physical and emotional support and assisted my client discuss her concerns with the radiographers.

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My client fell at home and was admitted to the local hospital where I visited her in A&E and on the ward, where I met kind and caring staff. She was too unwell to be transferred to the hospice and died soon after following a stroke.

I was so glad to support my client during her various medical interventions both at hospital and at home, in order to support her through her cancer experience. I was able to offer support, and help her navigate the system and help her ask those often difficult questions and understand the response from professionals. It was a privilege to meet so many kind and compassionate members of the multi-disciplinary team, everyone my client met treated her with dignity and respect and nothing was too much bother. Feedback from professionals regarding the experience of working with an advocate was always positive and it was recognised that a well-informed and well-supported and empowered patient facilitated a positive staff : patient relationship. It was also recognised that the advocate had the time to support their client when professional staff had limited time and that support was consistent and flexible.  

Susan Mackie Volunteer Advocate, Getting Heard (formerly Oxfordshire Advocacy)


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What a coincidence!

Our colleagues and programme partners Staffs & Wolves Cancer Advocacy project have just published the post below on their own blog and Kath Curley project manager has kindly agreed to share it with us:

At last week’s Cancer Older People and Advocacy Programme Project Management Group Meeting Kathleen Gillett, from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy,  gave a presentation on Macmillan’s Recovery Package.

Recovery Package DiagramThe Recovery Package is a series of key interventions which, when delivered together, can greatly improve outcomes for people living with and beyond cancer.

The Recovery Package is made up of the following elements:

  • Holistic Needs Assessment (HNA) and care planning.
  • Treatment Summary completed at the end of each acute treatment phase 
  • Cancer Care Review completed by the GP or practice nurse to discuss the person’s needs.
  • An education and support event such as Health and Well-being Clinics.

Today, Collette Cooper and I met with Sarah Gorton, Macmillan Cancer Survivorship Project Manager, based at Royal Stoke Hospital, who has taken up a 2 year Macmillan funded project. Sarah is working with the CNSs, across Royal Stoke and County Hospitals, for 4 cancer sites:

  1. Head and Neck
  2. Brain
  3. Primary Bone
  4. Gynaecological  

to implement an electronic Holistic Needs Assessment (eHNA) within these clinics as an integral part of the Recovery Package.

We discussed with Sarah where advocacy fits within the Package and that Advocates compliment and support the work the CNSs are doing. We hope this will lead to greater partnership and collaborative working with the health professionals.

Good luck Sarah!

Kath Curley, Staffs and Wolves Cancer Advocacy and Support Project Manager.


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Coping with more than cancer

In today’s blog post Kathleen Gillett from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy looks at the issues facing older people affected by other long term conditions as well as cancer:

Coping with cancer is one thing, coping with cancer and one or more other long term condition is another. Peer advocates listen to the people they support to discover what matters most to them and may be surprised to find that having cancer can be the least of their worries.

At Dorset Macmillan Advocacy we have collected some information on the long term conditions and health problems that the people we are supporting are living with.  We have found that of 110 people referred to us for support in 2015 50 have at least one other long term condition, 26 have two conditions including drug and alcohol dependency issues and 7 have 3 conditions.  The conditions include sensory loss, diabetes, heart condition, memory problems, arthritis, MS, ME, epilepsy, hiatus hernia and mental health issues. Not everyone wants to disclose all their health issues and we have not in every case methodically recorded where this information has been given so I think it is safe to say that there are likely to be more issues than we actually know of.

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In fact 70% of people with cancer have one or more additional long term condition according to research carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support.  It’s clear that the situation for people with limited social support networks, such as older people, can be very difficult.  Independent advocacy services such as ours can be flexible and support people with their concerns when they are wider and more complex than the cancer diagnosis.

Health professionals are aware of the implications especially as regards treatment options for older people.  The British Geriatric Society has a special interest group (SIG) for Oncology which met for the first time last September and Kath Parson of OPAAL gave a presentation about the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme.  In a write-up of that event Dr Lucy Dumas said ‘Older patients with multiple medical co-morbidities and/or issues with care or coping at home represent a significant challenge when it comes to evaluating whether or not they will be able to tolerate potentially toxic therapies’.

Over the next year we hope to gather more information about the wider health issues of the people that we support. As well as asking for their feedback on the difference our service has made we may be able to gather their views on how their other conditions have impacted on their cancer patient experience.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy