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Caring for Older Patients With Advanced Cancers Affects Caregivers’ Emotional Health

For many informal caregivers, providing assistance to loved ones with cancer is emotionally taxing, especially for those taking care of older patients with advanced cancers. Researchers set out to better understand the relationship between older patients with cancer and their caregivers' mental health and quality of life (QOL) and found that caring for older patients with advanced cancers negatively impacts caregivers' emotional health.

In a clinical trial, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 541 older patients with advanced cancers had to take a geriatric assessment that tested eight domains of health, such as function and cognition. In order to qualify for the study, participants had to have impairment in at least one domain according to the geriatric assessment. The participants then chose one caregiver to enroll in the study if they had one. Of the 541 patients participating in the study, 414 had a caregiver that enrolled.

All the caregivers completed the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7, Distress Thermometer, Patient Health Questionnaire-2, and Short Form Health Survey-12. These assessments evaluated domains such as the caregivers' physical health, anxiety, depression, and QOL.

The results revealed that 43.5% of caregivers were distressed, 24.4% had anxiety, and 18.9% had depression. When the number of domain impairments increased in patients, depression rates of caregivers soared, and physical health and QOL of caregivers decreased. When patients experienced impaired function, caregiver QOL decreased, and impaired patient nutrition was linked to caregiver depression. Overall, caregivers who were younger, had comorbidities, and had distressed patients were more likely to have worse caregiver outcomes.

The study authors conclude, "This study indicates that caregivers for older patients with advanced cancer are a vulnerable group. Given that poor caregiver emotional and self-rated health is associated with patient-perceived quality of care, interventions may not only improve clinical outcomes but also patient and caregiver satisfaction with care delivery."

For More Information

Kehoe LA, Xu H, Duberstein P, et al (2019). Quality of life of caregivers of older patients with advanced cancer. J Am Geriatr Soc. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1111/jgs.15862

Image Courtesy of Rhoda Baer

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