A new multi-state survey shows that nearly one-quarter to one-third of family caregivers of patients with high-mortality cancers experience high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. The study also found that family caregivers can spend over eight hours per day providing care and that as this time increases, self-care behaviors such as sleep and exercise decline, a trend associated with poorer mental health.
As family caregivers play an essential role in the delivery of care services, the research highlights a need to increase clinician attention to the health and wellness of these individuals. This study will be presented at the upcoming 2016 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in San Francisco.
“Caregivers and patients are faced with an enormous physical and emotional toll when dealing with advanced cancer,” said lead author J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom, PhD, RN, and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “When they put their own health and well-being on the back burner, it can affect their care to the patient.”
The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 294 family caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with pancreatic, lung, brain, ovarian, head and neck, hematologic, or stage IV cancers. The survey was fielded across eight cancer centers in Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee. Survey questions explored measures of self-care behaviors and quality of life.
Dr. Stegall’s Comments: The conventional medical community does not place nearly enough importance on the health and well-being of the caregiver (or the patient, for that matter). The temptation is to get tunnel vision with respect to the patient’s medical condition, and forget how that condition is impacting both the patient and those on his or her support team. It is not uncommon for caregivers to develop depression, anxiety, hormone imbalances, insomnia, and even cancer themselves as a result of the tremendous stress they are under as a result of the devoted care they provide their loved one. A truly integrative care model would address the mental and emotional aspects of cancer for both patients and their loved ones.