Will chemo take away quality of life for my mother, who has Alzheimer's?

2 answers | Last updated: Jan 22, 2015
Fratfish asked...

My mother is 86 and in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's.  Won't chemo really take away her quality of life?

Expert Answers

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

Making decisions about treatment options for cancer is really tricky in older patients when there are additional health problems such as Alzheimer's. Your concerns about chemotherapy compromising your mother's quality of life are valid, and you need to take them up with her doctor. As part of this discussion, you need to find out the prognosis of your mother's cancer, and what exactly you can expect if you choose not to treat the cancer with chemotherapy. Here are some of the questions you might ask:

  • How quickly will my mother's cancer progress without chemotherapy?
  • What will her symptoms be and how much will she suffer?
  • If she does choose chemotherapy, what can we expect in terms of outcome?
  • What are the common side effects of the prescribed chemotherapy and now much will she suffer?

Since your mother has early stage Alzheimer's, she may become easily overwhelmed and "check out." You may need to help her absorb all this information and make sure she really understands what will happen with either choice.

When you wish to encourage the doctor to level with you, it helps to spell that out clearly. You might explain that you're trying to understand the pain and suffering involved in each option -- chemotherapy and no chemotherapy -- and would prefer that the doctor not sugar coat the information. It's very important to choose a medical team with whom you can communicate clearly and have a good working relationship.


Community Answers

Eglord answered...

Personally, and this is a personal decision, I would not elect for cancer treatments for my husband. Alzheimer's is not yet curable and therefore I would allow nature to take its course. I would keep him without pain but would not inflict yet another treatment such as chemotherapy. In many ways I would treat the cancer condition as a blessing for preventing the late stage of Alzheimer's when the person is not remembering anything about there life or people in their life.