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Tips for Caregivers

Liz Puris, MS, RD, LDN
Oncology Dietitian Nutritionist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Diet and Nutrition

Preparing or providing food is a natural way many people show their love and care. Loved ones going through treatment can have specific needs sometimes requiring creativity in the kitchen.

Make sure and communicate!

Ask your loved one what is working best for them in terms of diet, symptoms, and nutrition. Also, ask if their dietitian has recommended a specific type of diet. Be careful with information you find online. When evaluating trustworthy sources ask yourself if the site ends in “.org” “.edu” – if so, you’re on the right track! While personal stories can be captivating, make sure they are also not offering products for sale or offering an easy, quick solution to a complex medical issue.

Ask your loved one to make a grocery shopping list

If they can’t decide on foods that sound appealing, try neutral, easy to eat foods such as smoothies, yogurt, pudding, applesauce, mashed potatoes, squash and soups.

Poor appetite can be a common symptom

It is understandably worrisome for caregivers if their loved one is eating less than usual. Understand that smaller, more frequent meals and snacks may work better than their usual portions. Setting a timer or reminder on their phone can also be a helpful gentle reminder. Almost like taking medication at a certain time, schedule a few minutes to have a few bites of food.

Try staying ahead of symptoms by taking medications preventatively

Keeping up with anti-nausea medications or medications to help regulate bowels can help to keep your loved one feeling well and allow them to eat more.

Organize a meal train

If many friends and family members want to provide meals, assign different days of the week. That way your loved one won’t get overwhelmed with food! Alternatively, a nice gift can be a grocery store gift card so your loved one can choose what they would like.

Note: If your loved one is having trouble accessing or preparing food, ask your dietitian or resource specialist about meal delivery services that may be available in your community.

Appointments and Scheduling

In addition to organizing your loved one’s nutrition needs, help your loved one with other essential tasks.

Similar to a meal train, organizing a ride train can be helpful. If there is a primary caregiver who accompanies your loved one to appointments, have a back up plan in case there is a day they are unavailable.

If you or a family member attends appointments with your loved one, take notes! Then organize paperwork into a binder or folders. Ask for providers’ business cards and purchase a clear business card sheet protector to keep them organized. Alternatively, an electronic, shareable document such as “googledocs” can be helpful to share notes between caregivers.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Watch for signs of burnout such as irritation, exhaustion, and trouble managing your own to-do list. Ask another close family member or friend to occasionally help your loved one. Ask your center if there are support groups for caregivers, either in person or virtually.

Caregiving can require a lot of time and effort, although it is rewarding. Many people wouldn’t think twice about providing love and support, that is surely appreciated by your loved one.