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Demoralization and the Mental Health Needs of Older Adults Facing Cancer

As our society ages and life expectancy increases, the prevalence of cancer among older adults is climbing. While longer lifespans offer more time with loved ones, it’s vital not to overlook the emotional toll of aging, especially when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. At Hopemark Health, we understand the complexities of navigating cancer diagnosis and treatment, particularly for older adults, and offer a range of treatments tailored to support mental health and well-being.

Recent data shows a concerning trend: individuals aged 65 and older account for a significant portion of newly diagnosed cancer cases. By 2040, projections consider roughly 73% of the 26 million cancer survivors will be in this age bracket. Behind these statistics are profound emotional struggles, including existential crisis, death anxiety, and overwhelming sadness.

The problem is that these emotional responses can escalate or indicate something more severe: demoralization.

Demoralization is a condition characterized by ongoing feelings of helplessness, despair, and thoughts of death or self-harm. While it may sound like depression, it differs in that it is often overlooked and considered an expected and accepted response to a new debilitating illness. Demoralization is not yet formally recognized as a diagnosis, though research suggests thoughts of suicide or self-harm occur in a staggering 89% of cases.

So why does demoralization matter? Because it underscores the urgent need for support and understanding of our aging population. If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of hopelessness or despair in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, it’s crucial to seek out additional mental health support. Whether through counseling, support groups, or medication management, there are avenues available to help navigate these difficult emotions and find a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

Supporting Older Adults with Cancer: Addressing Demoralization and Mental Health Needs

One treatment modality offered at Hopemark Health is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has shown efficacy in addressing the emotional distress commonly experienced by cancer patients, including demoralization. Through CBT, individuals can learn coping strategies to manage feelings of helplessness and despair, reframe negative thoughts, and cultivate a sense of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

For those experiencing severe distress or thoughts of self-harm, our psychiatric services offer comprehensive evaluation and medication management, tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences. Our team of experienced providers and psychiatrists works closely with patients to develop personalized treatment plans aimed at alleviating symptoms and improving overall quality of life.

By integrating these treatments into our approach to care, we strive to address not only the physical manifestations of cancer but also the emotional and psychological impact it has on older adults. Through compassionate support and evidence-based interventions, we aim to empower individuals to navigate their cancer journey with dignity, resilience, and hope.

If you or a loved one is struggling with the emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis, we encourage you to reach out to us for support. Together, we can provide the care and resources required to ensure that older adults facing cancer receive the care and support they need to navigate this challenging journey with dignity and resilience.

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Nelson, C. J., Saracino, R. M., Roth, A. J., Harvey, E., Martin, A., Moore, M., Marcone, D., Poppito, S. R., & Holland, J. (2019). Cancer and Aging: Reflections for Elders (CARE): A pilot randomized controlled trial of a psychotherapy intervention for older adults with cancer. Psycho-Oncology (Chichester, England), 28(1), 39-47. 10.1002/pon.4907
Ornstein, K. A., Liu, B., Schwartz, R. M., Smith, C. B., Alpert, N., & Taioli, E. (2020). Cancer in the context of aging: Health characteristics, function and caregiving needs prior to a new cancer diagnosis in a national sample of older adults. Journal of geriatric oncology, 11(1), 75–81.
Robinson, S., BPsych(Hons), Kissane, David W., MD, MPM, FRANZCP, FAChPM, Brooker, Joanne, BSc(Hons), GradDipComp, GradDipPsych, PhD, & Burney, Susan, BA, GradDipCounsPsych, MHlthSc, FAPS, PhD. (2015). A Systematic Review of the Demoralization Syndrome in Individuals With Progressive Disease and Cancer: A Decade of Research. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 49(3), 595-610. 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2014.07.008
1200 628 Sandya Janardhan, MSN, PMHNP- BC

Sandya Janardhan, MSN, PMHNP- BC

Sandya Janardhan, MSN, PMHNP-BC, is a highly motivated and board-certified Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner dedicated to providing compassionate care to individuals with complex traumas, serious mental illness, and underserved mental health needs. A Lauder fellow and top graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Sandya has acquired a wealth of clinical experience in diverse psychiatric settings, including behavioral health consultation at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, outpatient services at COMHAR, and harm reduction community care at the University of Pennsylvania.

Article by: Sandya Janardhan, MSN, PMHNP- BC