How to stay independent with a terminal illness

Nadia Thompson

When you've been diagnosed with a terminal illness, everything changes. It's common to worry about how this diagnosis will affect your day-to-day life, particularly your independence. Here are seven ideas to help you stay independent. 

1. Ensure help is on hand

A personal alarm is a good place to start. Personal alarms are kept on you at all times and usually take the form of a necklace or bracelet. They come with a long-range intercom unit that is installed in your home.

When you press the alarm it activates the intercom, connecting you to someone who can, for example, call an ambulance on your behalf and wait with you until it arrives.

Depending on the provider, you usually pay an upfront fee followed by a regular monthly payment. You should qualify as VAT-exempt.

You need to have a phone line for it to work and you can set it up at home yourself, or have someone come round to install it. There are a number of companies to choose from, each operating regionally.

Read more: 10 Ways to help when your friend has a serious illness

 

2. Install a key safe

A key safe is a small, external safe that you fix securely to the front of your house, inside which you can keep a spare key. Ideally, it should be hidden from sight whilst still being relatively easy to access.

It makes sense to combine your personal alarm with a key safe. If you provide the alarm company with the code, it can then be passed on to paramedics in an emergency.

 

3. Conserve your energy

When living with a terminal illness one of the hardest things to accept can be the toll it is taking on your body.

Sometimes it’s tempting to do more than you should, but it’s important to rest when you can. Don’t push yourself too far, particularly if you have had a recent stint in the hospital.

Hire a cleaner or gardener to take on the bulk of the chores. Accept any and all offers of help from family—even if they do pack the dishwasher incorrectly!

 

4. Know your benefits

There are a number of benefits that may be available to you after you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness—you can call your local council to find out more. Your NHS contact should be able to help you get the ball rolling as well.

You don’t have to take them all up, but it’s worth knowing what benefits are available to you that could make life easier, such as blue badge parking or extra help in the home.

 

5. Make your home more accessible

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Your NHS contact or GP can put you in touch with your local Adult Social Care team. They assess your current activity levels against your existing home set-up to find the right equipment that can help you around the house.

They can also refer you onwards if you require the installation of specialist equipment such as grab rails or bed raisers.

 

6. Tempt your appetite

Many people with terminal illnesses find their appetite starts to wane. This is completely normal. However, food is the cornerstone of staying independent so tempt your appetite whenever you can.

If you’re not feeling up to cooking, ready meals have come a long way in the last few years. There are many brands and cuisines to sample, catering for all dietary requirements. You can either order online from big brand supermarkets or shop in person and have them deliver the food to you later on.

There are also a growing number of "meals on wheels" style services that you can try. They deliver hot or frozen food to your door on specific days of the week.

Find your regional operators by typing in your postcode here, or check out award-winning national companies such as Wiltshire Farm Foods, Oakhouse Foods or iCare. They usually offer a free sample so it’s worth giving them go.

Depending on your personal circumstances you may be eligible for a number of free meals.

 

7. Keep your pecker up

Life can be lonely at the best of times. If you live on your own or your relatives live far away, joining a befriending service can help you stay connected with the outside world.

Charities such as Age UK and Macmillan pair volunteers of all ages with people looking for a little extra support.

They usually have access to a wide range of information from will writing services to local support groups to trusted cleaners, and can give you a hand sorting out some of the practicalities.

Volunteers visit you in your home (or somewhere local, like a café) or they can call you over the phone. The topic of conversation is entirely yours and they are happy to help out wherever they can.