Caring for Seniors with Mesothelioma

By Michelle Cemental

Every September 26th, Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD) is celebrated to remember those afflicted by this rare but preventable cancer. It also enlightens others to the ongoing impact of asbestos. Although it has been permanently banned in many countries, the US still allows 1% in materials today. Additionally, those who come in contact with materials that still contain asbestos could face detrimental repercussions. In this post we will discuss more about mesothelioma and how to care for those affected.

What Is Mesothelioma?

As mentioned, mesothelioma is connected to asbestos exposure. Once the asbestos fibers are disturbed, they can become airborne and if inhaled, they cling to the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen. They cannot be removed, and later on, tumors form where the asbestos was buried. Asbestos fibers unfortunately cannot be detected within the body upon initial exposure.

Asbestos was the primary supplement in products prior to its relevance to mesothelioma. As it was popular in almost everything, ranging from hair dryers and crock pots to insulation and Navy ships, there have been over 45,000 reported deaths from 1999 to 2016. The significance of MAD continues to raise hope and inform others to one day eradicate asbestos, especially since this is the only leading cause of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma mainly devastates the elderly because it isn’t usually discovered until decades after asbestos exposure. It may be confusing and challenging to help those afflicted with this cancer or you may feel unequipped to fully serve or care for these seniors. Regardless, you can prepare yourself by understanding more about mesothelioma, who is most affected, and then how you can care for them.

Who Is Affected?

You will find that seniors with mesothelioma were formerly:

● Firefighters

● Veterans

● Construction workers

● Engineers

● Farmers

● Hairdressers

● HVAC workers

● Industrial workers

● Railroad workers

● Miners

● Shipyard workers

● Metalworkers

● Mechanics

Predominantly, mesothelioma affects men, but family and close friends who were in close contact with those who worked in these occupations could also be vulnerable because fibers can be transferred by clothing.

Asbestos was also known to be flame-resistant, have the ability to be sound-absorbent, and it was relatively cheap and easy to produce, which made it even more popular. Around the 1970s, laws were created to reduce the use of asbestos. Still, the men and women who were working in any of the previous jobs had already been impacted by the potential dangers of asbestos exposure. Along with this, homeowners were also at risk because any demolition, renovation, or home improvement project could similarly uncover asbestos.

Homes that were built before asbestos regulations had a variety of appliances, foundational materials, and furniture where this carcinogen was found. Families or home professionals updating houses for modern appeal had no idea of the hazards they were opening themselves up to. With the current understanding of mesothelioma’s connection to asbestos, we can see an entire generation unknowingly putting themselves in jeopardy.

How Can You Care for Someone with Mesothelioma?

Caregivers, as always, should be conscientious of their senior clients with cancer, but they can better provide for them by developing the right skills and resources for a mesothelioma client’s needs. Shortness of breath and fatigue are a couple of symptoms that mesothelioma seniors usually experience because of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Daily errands and activities that normal people accomplish efficiently and mindlessly become challenging. You should be respectful to these seniors who are prone to weakness and lack of energy.

Help with Daily Living

There are an abundance of ways that you can help. Some of these are common, like assisting a senior with dressing, making sure they can eat, sit, and walk without falling or having any difficulties. Caregivers may also find themselves organizing appointments, medical records, as well as communicating with physicians to keep everyone up-to-date. These tasks are valuable and conducive to a senior’s recovery or well-being.

Financial Support

The cost of chemotherapy, drugs, travel expenses, surgery, and other treatments adds up. When working with an older client, you may be in a position to help manage finances or plan for a senior’s budget. Healthcare costs can be expensive and difficult to navigate, so assisting a senior with their investments or helping understand medicare coverage can go a long way. Whether this means you follow a senior’s journey and understand what stage they’re in or what they can afford, you should try to offer support.


Depending on the level of caregiving you offer, you may be able to be involved in transportation and food set up. Based on an article from Livestrong, there are plenty of services for cancer patients. The National Patient Travel Center and the US Department of Travel both provide air transportation for medical needs. This comes in handy when you are faced with going to an appointment or receiving treatments that are located across the country. There are non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, and community transportation service programs for ground transportation too. If you do find that you need to extend your stay when visiting an out-of-town doctor, you can also find temporary lodging.

Counseling & Support

Cancer is more than just a physical or financial hardship, and your senior may likely experience emotional and mental trauma. Seeking counseling and emotional support for your client or loved one should also be a concern. Legal and insurance assistance are comparably urgent matters that weigh down a senior who must cope with these issues as well. In any event, these resources and support systems are proactive in ensuring your senior is not alone or lost in whatever stage of cancer they may be in.

Your senior loved one is a human being who not only deserves the basic necessities to survive, but compassion and empathy during their cancer battle. Whether you have never encountered someone dealing with mesothelioma or you have a decade of knowledge with cancer survivors, it is your responsibility to provide support. Your clients will be grateful for your expertise and willingness to help, but always remember to treat them with kindness, respect, and patience. Listen to their needs, which may be different than what you assume.

As we honor MAD, we must look after those who are currently affected. This is a vicious cancer that attacks the lungs and other important organs, debilitating someone who then must depend on their reassuring and benevolent caretakers.

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Tags: Senior Health