Helping with personal care and medication

The person you’re looking after may need help with lots of practical things.

You may need to help them with their personal care. This can include helping with eating, helping them to move around and be comfortable, and doing the household chores.

You may also need to help them with their medication. This could mean helping them to keep track of what drugs they are taking and being aware of any possible side effects they may have during or after treatment.

Using technology such as telecare could help support you with their care. This technology can alert health or social care professionals if there is a problem with the person’s health.

There is information and advice available to help you if you haven’t helped with these kinds of things before. You can also have a carer’s assessment to help you manage.

Practical issues

There are various practical issues you will find yourself having to deal with as a carer.

Day-to-day activities such as eating, moving around and housework are all important practical things you have to think about when caring for someone with cancer. If these are things you haven’t had to do before, you may find this practical advice useful.

The practical help you give the person you care for can help you feel more confident and helpful as a carer. Helping could just be something small like bringing them a cushion so they feel more comfortable.

A carer’s assessment could help you manage these practical issues.

Personal care

Food and eating

The person you care for is likely to have changes in their appetite, so try giving them smaller meals more often. Try using high-calorie drinks or adding milk powder to mashed potato. You could also add food supplements. Ask your doctor or nurse about getting more specific advice from a dietitian.

Cancer treatment can also change the sense of taste. You could try giving the person you’re caring for foods with a variety of textures, as otherwise they may all taste the same.

Try not to make a big issue of food and mealtimes. Always try to include the person you care for and ask them what they’d like to eat. Some people with eating problems find that watching TV at the same time can help and be distracting. If they really don’t want to eat anything, that’s fine. But keep track of their mood and diet, and get help from a dietitian if you need it.

We have more information about the different problems people with cancer have when they eat and what may help.

Moving and handling

The person you care for may need your help to move around. This might be because their balance isn’t good. Learning to move and handle them safely can benefit both of you. But be careful about injuring yourself. Many carers have back injuries from lifting and this can affect your ability to look after someone. Make sure you do it carefully and ask the person you care for what help they want from you. You may need a second person to help.

Your local Carers Trust carers’ centre may offer training in areas such as first aid, and moving and handling. To find your nearest centre, visit You could also contact Age UK or speak to your GP or district nurse. The British Red Cross also offers free courses on handling and can supply equipment.

Homemade aids can be very useful too. For example, a plastic carrier bag on the car seat will help someone swivel in and out of the car if you don’t have a special cushion.

It’s a good idea to find out in advance what emergency services offer locally, if the person you care for falls or has a similar accident.

Making them more comfortable

There are a number of things you can do to make the person you care for more comfortable. The ideas below have been suggested by the carers who helped us write this information. Please remember these are personal examples, some involving homemade equipment. They may not always work for you and it’s usually best to check with a health or social care professional first to check what they would recommend.

Practical tips to help you

  • In the bath, you could put a towel under the person’s arms. Or if there are more sensitive parts of their body, make a bath cushion for them to rest on out of foam and tied plastic bags. You could also put a towel on the edge of the toilet seat so that they can sit down more comfortably.
  • If they have problems leaving their bed, you could get a plastic urinal, commode or bowl for the bedroom. You could also help them shave or wash their face with a bowl and mirror.
  • Carry a thin, foam cushion in a bag that you can discreetly put down to make them more comfortable when they are out.
  • Consider buying a sofa bed for the living room so they can lie down and watch TV, talk to friends and be part of family life. This also means you don’t have to run up and down the stairs when they need you. You’ll need to think about things like getting them on and off the sofa bed safely and whether you’ll need help. It might be best to speak to a health or social care professional about these issues first.
  • A high-quality, adjustable bed can make them more comfortable too. You could try applying for a Macmillan Grant to help with the cost.

Equipment and transport

There are aids that can help the person you care for cope at home. We list all the different types of equipment and adaptations you may need in our information about preparing your home.

It’s important to plan ahead. If you don’t need any equipment now, your needs may change over time. Get advice from health and social care professionals in advance, so the equipment is ready when you need it. You can also ask them about getting free transport to and from hospital appointments. If you don’t ask, you may not be offered the help you need.

If you think you are being supplied with equipment you won’t use, make it clear to the appropriate person that you do not need it. Unnecessary equipment can clutter a house and be an inconvenience.

If you’re worried about paying for travel and parking, read our information about the financial support available for things like this.

Using technology

You could think about using something called telecare. This is when sensors are positioned around your home to detect serious problems. These sensors can detect a gas leak, fire or if the front door has been left open.

You can use technology to alert health or social care professionals if there are problems with a person’s health. This is sometimes called telehealth. The information is sent to an expert monitoring centre, through either the internet or telephone connection. Telehealth can monitor conditions such as asthma, heart failure, diabetes and hypertension. For example, a small heart monitor attached to the body can send this type of alert.

To find out more about telehealth and telecare, go to

There are also mobile phone apps designed to help carers. Jointly is an app that helps you to be organised and feel supported as a carer. Visit to find out more.

These new technologies can help people living with cancer to be more independent. They can also help the people looking after them feel more supported and secure.

Household chores

Help with household chores may be available to you. A local Carers Trust scheme may be able to provide you with practical help around the house. In some parts of the country these are known as Crossroads schemes or Princess Royal Trust for Carers schemes. At a national level, these charities have merged to become Carers Trust .

You can also search on our website for support services, including volunteering services in some areas, that might be able to offer practical support.

Practical tips to help you

  • Try to prioritise – do what has to be done to keep the house hygienic and don’t worry too much about the rest.
  • If you don’t usually do the housework and cooking, ask a person who does to teach you.



Prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People with cancer in England are eligible for free prescriptions. Ask your GP surgery or oncology clinic for an exemption certificate.

In England, you may be able to get free prescriptions for other reasons. This could be because you are 60 or over, or if you are receiving certain benefits. We have more information about benefits.

Availability of drugs

It’s good to be aware that not all pharmacies will stock the drugs the person you care for needs. Speak to a pharmacist about ordering drugs.

Most pharmacists now deliver drugs and may deliver on Saturdays. Your local pharmacist should be able to give you more information about this.

Pain control

Pain can be a real issue for people with cancer. People are often advised to take regular doses of medication so the pain relief is always in their system. Make sure any pain relief is taken as advised by the doctor.

If you have been asked to give pain relief to the person you’re caring for, ask for clear guidance. It can be a frightening situation and it will help to know exactly what is expected of you.

Tumours will sometimes put pressure on nerves, which can be very painful. Let the person’s doctor or nurse know if the pain isn’t well controlled.

You may worry if the person you’re caring for is taking high doses of strong painkillers. It’s important to remember that the right dose is the one that controls the pain, and this can vary.

Practical tips to help you keep track of medication

  • Try using a tablet box so you can separate all the pills the person needs to take that day. Some pharmacists can help with using a tablet box, for example by filling it with medication for you.

  • Using a medication planner also help. Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists will also be able to help you. To find your nearest one, visit

If the person you’re caring for has difficulty swallowing tablets, which is not uncommon, ask their key worker about other methods of pain control. It may be possible to use a syringe driver instead, which can be attached to the person and give automatic controlled doses of painkillers and other drugs such as anti-sickness medications, avoiding the need for tablets.

Side effects

Treatments for cancer can have some unexpected and uncomfortable side effects. Ask the doctor or key worker about what kind of side effects the person you’re caring for might have and how these can be managed.

If you have an idea of what to expect, it will help you tell the difference between a normal side effect and something more serious. This can reduce unnecessary trips to hospital and save you a lot of worry. But remember, side effects vary from person to person, and they’re not always possible to predict.

Being prepared for the effects of treatment means you can learn ways to handle any problems. We have detailed information on the possible side effects of cancer treatment.