Predictors of bereavement outcome for family carers of cancer patients

Psychooncology. 1999 May-Jun;8(3):237-49. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1611(199905/06)8:3<237::AID-PON375>3.0.CO;2-C.


Aims: The psychological outcome of family carers after bereavement is an important issue in evaluating palliative care services. Palliative care services have the potential to provide preventive psychosocial intervention to family carers prior to bereavement, but are faced with the need to identify those who may have greatest risk of adverse outcome. This prospective study examines predictors of psychological outcome for family carers of cancer patients following bereavement based on factors identified at referral to a palliative care agency.

Methods: Cancer patients and their family carer were consecutively recruited and assessed on a range of clinical and psychological measures at referral to a palliative home care service in a metropolitan centre (Time 1). Carers were again assessed following the death of the patient, on average at 4 months post-bereavement (Time 2), using measures of bereavement symptoms and psychological morbidity.

Results: 178 carers were assessed on both occasions. The chief predictors of carer psychological symptoms and severity of grief at follow-up were psychological symptom scores at the time of referral (Time 1). Factors also measured at Time 1 were significant predictors of symptoms and grief scores at Time 2: greater number of adverse life events, carer's coping responses, past bereavement and separation experiences, the relationship with the patient, and greater severity of patient's illness at the time of palliative care referral.

Conclusions: The findings indicate clinical risk factors for adverse short-term bereavement outcome that can be identified in family carers during palliative care treatment, that have implications for identifying the psychological needs of carers, and that form a potential basis for interventions to enhance the psychological outcome for family carers.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / classification*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bereavement*
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Counseling
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Home Care Services / organization & administration
  • Home Nursing / psychology*
  • Hospices / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Referral and Consultation