Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among seniors, with 20 to 30 percent of seniors falling each year.
Cancer patients — of any age, but especially seniors — are at a higher risk because the illness and common cancer treatments often leave them weak and fatigued.
The most common cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Many patients opt for a patient-tailored mix of these treatments, known as multimodal therapy.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer and treatment options used, but common side effects include muscle weakness, fatigue, a decreased sense of touch and weight loss. All of these make patients more susceptible to falls.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy drugs are an aggressive cancer treatment option that kills cancer cells and shrinks tumors. The drugs are usually delivered by IV into a vein in your arm.
The treatment attacks rapidly dividing cells and interrupts the division process, but it also attacks healthy, active cells, including cells in your blood, mouth, digestive system and hair follicles.
Damage to these healthy cells lead to side effects such as muscle pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, blood disorders and hair loss. Some patients also experience cognitive dysfunction or changes in thinking and memory.
Different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. These can depend on the person.
The most common side effect of any type of chemotherapy is fatigue. Patients undergoing the treatment often feel tired or exhausted all the time. This is especially true among older patients, who may already experience fatigue and muscle weakness from their age or other ailments.
Fatigue affects the overall physical, psychological, social and economic well-being of a person with cancer and can influence daily activities, mood and emotions and attitude toward the future.
This can make simple, daily tasks like household chores or even just walking around your home difficult and dangerous, especially among older patients.
Radiation Therapy Side Effects
This noninvasive treatment uses high-energy rays to target the cancer.
While radiation therapy doesn’t have the strong side effects of chemotherapy, the two treatments are often paired together to help shrink tumors or manage tumor growth. Because of the toxic nature of radiation, the treatment is used sparingly and only with certain types of cancer in order to prevent damaging DNA.
Common side effects include skin problems (itching, blistering or peeling) and fatigue. Other side effects depend on the type and location of the radiation.
Major advances in radiation technology have made it more precise, leading to fewer side effects.
Cancer Surgery Side Effects
If cancer patients are in good enough health, they may be eligible for surgery.
The type and goals of surgery depend on the type of cancer. Surgery can range from a biopsy — or the examination of tissue removed from the body — to full tumor removal, also called curative or primary surgery.
Side effects from surgery vary greatly depending on the type of surgery, type and location of the cancer, other treatments being used and the person’s overall health.
Common side effects include pain, fatigue, appetite loss and swelling, draining, bruising and numbness around the site of surgery.
Preventing Cancer Patient Falls
Fatigue, pain and numbness associated with major cancer treatments raise the risk of falling.
Cancer patients can lower their risk of falling several ways:
Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Get enough sleep.
Treat anemia with nutritional supplements, drugs and/or blood transfusions.
Stay active to help relieve fatigue, including light to moderate exercise.
Try mind-body strategies such as yoga, acupuncture, massages and meditation.
Speak with a therapist or counselor trained to work with cancer survivors.
Make your home safe by removing objects you may trip over.
Use appropriate walking aids if needed.
Don’t overdo it. If there is a physical task you don’t feel comfortable with, seek assistance.