Background: Despite the generally accepted belief that social support improves caregiver adjustment in general and subjective burden in particular, the literature shows mixed findings, and a recent review concluded that the predictive strength of caregiver social support in determining caregiver burden is less evident, due to the conceptual diversity of this determinant.
Objective: The purpose of this review is to analyse the relationship of perceived and received social support with subjective burden among informal caregivers of an adult or older adult.
Methods: A systematic search was carried out up to September 2017 in the following databases: MEDLINE (PubMed), CINAHL, EMBASE, PsycINFO), Scopus and ISI Proceedings, and a meta-analysis was performed with the results of the selected and included studies.
Results: Fifty-six studies were included in the meta-analysis, which provided 46 independent comparisons for perceived support and 16 for received support. Most of these studies were cross-sectional. There was a moderate, negative association of perceived social support on subjective burden (r = -0.36; CI 95% = -0.40, -0.32) and a very small, negative association of received support on subjective burden (r = -0.05; CI 95% = -0.095, -0.001).
Conclusions: 1) perceived and received support are not redundant constructs, 2) the relationships between social support and subjective burden depend on whether the social support is measured as perceived or received, 3) the relationship of perceived social support with subjective burden has a bigger effect size than that of received social support, the relation between received support and subjective burden being clinically irrelevant, 4) perceived social support may be a good predictor of subjective burden.
Implications of key findings: Our findings broadly support interventions promoting social support in caregivers to prevent or alleviate subjective burden, and specifically, to intervene on the promotion of perceived social support more than on the promotion of received social support when preventing or alleviating burden.