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The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center GERIATRIC PLAN©: Independence

An Ambulatory Nurses' Guide to Assist Older Adults Through Cancer Treatment


Related Issues:

Social support, finances, mobility, deconditioning

Why Independence is Important:

  • Increased risk of falls
  • Increased risk of loss of independence from subtle alterations in functional status
  • Deconditioning can lead to decline and dependency
  • Increased need for social & environmental support
  • To maintain self esteem
  • To remain in familiar surroundings (McEvoy, 2016)

Normal Age-Related Changes:

  • Sarcopenia (decreased muscle mass and strength)
  • Slower motor response time
  • Increased risk of postural hypotension
  • Decreased bone density (osteoporosis and fracture risk)
  • Visual changes--distorted depth perception causing inability to drive
  • Cognitive/memory changes  (Bond, Davis & McEvoy, 2012)

Older adults are at risk if they have any of the following:


  • Live alone or are socially isolated
  • Have inadequate support
  • At risk for elder abuse (physical, emotional, financial neglect)
  • Dementia or decreased cognition
  • Have been recently hospitalized; deconditioning is associated with hospitalization for an acute stressor event (Cherulyot, Reinhard & Laoingco, 2013)

Medication-Related Risk Factors

  • Polypharmacy
  • Sleep aids
  • Narcotics
  • Use of multiple providers and multiple pharmacies
  • Untoward side effects from medication

Behavioral Risk Factors

  • Alcohol/ substance abuse
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Addictive behaviors (shopping, gambling, hoarding)

Chemotherapy-Related Risk Factors

  • Neuropathy:
  • Vinca alkaloids (vincristine, vinblastine, vinorelbine, vindesine)
  • Platinum-based (cisplatin, oxaliplatin,carboplatin)
  • Taxanes (paclitaxel, docetaxel)
  • Podophyllotoxin (etoposide, teniposide)
  • Other: thalidomide, bortezomib, lenalidomide, interferon
  • Confusion:
  • high dose ifosfamide,methotrexate, interleukin-2,interferon, cytarabine
  • ​premedication regimes for chemotherapy that include lorazepam a/o diphenhydramine

Surgery-Related Risk Factors

  • Neurologic procedures
  • Ophthalmic procedures
  • Surgery involving an extremity (i.e total joint replacement, IM rod, amputation)
  • Surgery that results in prolonged debilitation (i.e Whipple, pelvic exoneration, spine surgery)

Radiation Risk Factors

  • Brain-causing neurologic side effects
  • Bone-causing impending or actual fracture

Cancer Diagnoses

  • Primary brain cancer or brain metastases
  • Bone cancer
  • Advanced disease


1. Screening Questions

  • Are you able to maintain your personal care (ADLs) and social network?
  • Are you able to maintain adequate nutrition and follow your medication schedule?
  • Are you able to keep up with your housework and finances?

2. Observations

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty ambulating
  • Disheveled or unkempt appearance
  • Underweight

3. Screening Tests and Measurements

  • MSKCC 65+ Adult Health Assessment
  • Occupational therapy evaluation
  • Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living (see below)
  • Lawton-Brody IADL Scale (see below)
  • Cognitive screening tools: St. Louis University Mental Status Exam (SLUMS), Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA), Folsteins Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE)

4. Physical Assessment: Standard examination with focus on



Nursing Intervention:

  • Recognize that deconditioning will occur when an older adult experiences a reduction in physical activity
  • Assist in determining underlying etiology of alterations in independence and correct if possible
  • Discuss living conditions/social situation with patient and caregiver
  • Initiate and coordinate appropriate referrals as appropriate:
  • Evaluation by social worker
  • Assess safety of home (VNS referral)
  • Assess caregiver adequacy and arrange care-giver assist (HHA) if indicated
  • PT/OT evaluation/therapy as indicated
  • Referrals for assistive devices as indicated
  • Provide education to patient and caregivers
  • Falls prevention education
  • Evaluate need for adaptive strategies (pre-cut foods,grab bars,shower seats)
  • Collaborate with all other healthcare providers
  • Evaluate effectiveness of interventions and modify as needed


Bond, S.M., Davis, M.E. & McEvoy, L.K. (2012). Physiology of aging and its impact on the older adult. In Cope, D. & McEvoy, L. (Eds.) Caring for the older adult with cancer in the ambulatory setting (9-36). Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society.
Cherulyot, J., Reinhard, J. Laoingco, C. (2013). Knowledge of staff nurses on management of deconditioning in older adults: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Natural Science, 3(6), 82-91.
Gillis, A., McDonald, B. (2008). Nurses' knowledge, attitudes and confidence regarding preventing and treating deconditioning in older adults. Journal of Continuing Education Nursing, 39(12), 547-554.
Gosney, M. (2009). General Care of the Older Cancer Patient. Clinical Oncology, 21(2), 86-91. 
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Lankveld, W., Goossens, J., & Franssen, M. (2011). The Gerontorheumatology Outpatient Service: Toward an International Classification of Function-Based Health Care Provision for the Elderly with Musculoskeletal Conditions. In Y. Nakasato (Ed.), Geriatric Rheumatology: A comprehensive approach (pp. 85-91). New York: Springer.
McEvoy, L.K. (2016). Deconditioning in older adults with cancer: a cascade to dependency. The ASCO Post, 7(1), 66-67.
Stark, M., Chase, C., & Deyoung, A. (2010). Barriers to Health Promotion in Community Dwelling Elders. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 175-186.
Palacios-Cena, D., Alvarez-Lopez, C., Cachon-Perez, M. (2009). Early detection of functional and cognitive decline after hospital discharge: the role of community nursing and multidisciplinary teams. Journal of Gerontology Nursing, 35(9), 13-17.
Stuck, A., Walthert, J., Nikolaus, T., Büla, C., Hohmann, C., & Beck, J. (1999). Risk factors for functional status decline in community-living elderly people: A systematic literature review. Social Science & Medicine 48(4), 445-469.