Cancer and dementia care: families should have greater involvement in decision-making

Centre for Dementia Research study emphasises important areas for improvement


Rachael Kelley speaking at the Cancer Nursing Practice conference this month.
Picture: Barney Newman

Involving families in decision-making helps improve care for people with cancer and dementia, a nurse academic has said.

Leeds Beckett University research fellow Rachael Kelley is involved in a study at the university’s Centre for Dementia Research into understanding and improving cancer care experiences for people living with dementia, and their families.

Speaking at the Cancer Nursing Practice conference, Dr Kelley said an important area to improve on is ensuring family members are included fully in appointments.

She gave an example of a patient and his wife who, believing there were no treatment options for his cancer, decided not to go ahead with radiotherapy even though his prognosis was good.  

Patients can struggle

‘Include family members in all aspects of decision-making and don’t exclude the person with dementia,’ Dr Kelley said.

She added that families are central to helping patients attend appointments. The study found that patients can struggle to remember why they are at a hospital and may need someone to accompany them.

Transport issues can also be improved, Dr Kelley said, suggesting that people can be kept in the oncology department until their transport arrives.

The study, which is due to end in the summer, involves 16 people with cancer and dementia. It is based on interviews, observations, and the medical notes of patients, their families and hospital staff.

Identifying dementia

Dr Kelley said the study reveals the importance of ensuring dementia has been identified.

She suggested that staff refer to the ARC acronym – ask about, record and communicate memory problems – to aid their investigations.

‘It is important to make sure you are asking about dementia,’ she said. ‘Is it included in the assessment? Is it being recorded and written down? Is it being communicated back to the GP if a diagnosis isn’t highlighted?’

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