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J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom ©ASCO/Todd Buchanan 2016
J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom
©ASCO/Todd Buchanan 2016

SAN FRANCISCO—Family caregivers of patients with high-mortality cancers may often experience high levels of depression and anxiety, results of a survey suggest.

The survey showed that caregivers can spend more than 8 hours a day providing care.

And as caregiving time increases, self-care behaviors such as sleep and exercise decline, which may confer poorer mental health.

These findings were presented at the 2016 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium (abstract 239).

“Caregivers and patients are faced with an enormous physical and emotional toll when dealing with advanced cancer,” said study investigator J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom, PhD, RN, of 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.”

Dr Dionne-Odom and his colleagues 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 8 cancer centers in Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee. Survey questions explored measures of self-care behaviors and quality of life.

The caregivers had an average age of 66. They were mostly female (72.8%), white (91.2%), retired (54.4%), and the patient’s spouse/partner (60.2%). Nearly half of the caregivers lived in rural areas (46.9%), and more than half had annual incomes less than $50,000 (53.8%).

Most of the caregivers said they provided care 6 to 7 days a week (71%) for more than 1 year (68%).

Twenty-three percent of caregivers reported a high level of depressive symptoms, and 34% reported borderline or high levels of anxiety symptoms, associated with significantly lower scores for self-care.

Lower self-care behavior scores were associated with a longer overall duration of caregiving, more hours in the day spent caregiving, more days of the week spent caregiving, and with fair or poor patient health.

“We hope our research rallies the oncology palliative care communities to develop assessment tools and services that support caregivers,” Dr Dionne-Odom said. “These efforts would help ensure that caregivers are supported and healthy when they take on the important role of caring for an individual with advanced cancer.” ico_ht

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