Should Mom know her cancer is terminal?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is in mid-stages of Alzheimer's. Her short-term memory is very bad. At doctor's visits, she does not remember why we are there. She is in the process of being diagnosed with stage IV cancer, probably kidney, that has spread to her bones and lungs. My father died four years ago from lung cancer and she does remember how awful his pain was. Do I tell her she has terminal cancer? She will need to be told over and over--I don't know if I can bear it. Do I tell her once, then gloss over future questions of "why do I hurt?" Will knowing help her body fight? She is already very weak and not eating much. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answer

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

Telling your mother that she has a terminal illness will just cause her and you unhappy times. You are going to have to monitor her discomfort/pain. When she complains about pain make sure she has medication to help her. Then......just enjoy the time you have with her. Eat lot's of ice cream, laugh over old pictures and movies. These are special days for you both. Use hospice, they provide wonderful services for your mother and for you.

My prayers are with you.... Joyce Simard