Palliative Care for Family Caregivers

J Clin Oncol. 2020 Mar 20;38(9):926-936. doi: 10.1200/JCO.19.00018. Epub 2020 Feb 5.

Abstract

Family caregivers provide substantial care for patients with advanced cancer, while suffering from hidden morbidity and unmet needs. The objectives of this review were to examine risk factors associated with caregiving for patients with advanced cancer, evaluate the evidence for pertinent interventions, and provide a practical framework for palliative care of caregivers in oncology settings. We reviewed studies examining the association of factors at the level of the caregiver, patient, caregiver-patient relationship, and caregiving itself, with adverse outcomes. In addition, we reviewed randomized controlled trials of interventions targeting the caregiver, the caregiver-patient dyad, or the patient and their family. Risk factors for adverse mental health outcomes included those related to the patient's declining status, symptom distress, and poor prognostic understanding; risk factors for adverse bereavement outcomes included unfavorable circumstances of the patient's death. Among the 16 randomized trials, the most promising results showed improvement of depression resulting from early palliative care interventions; results for quality of life were generally nonsignificant or showed an effect only on some subscales. Caregiving outcomes included burden, appraisal, and competence, among others, and showed mixed findings. Only three trials measured bereavement outcomes, with mostly nonsignificant results. On the basis of existent literature and our clinical experience, we propose the CARES framework to guide care for caregivers in oncology settings: Considering caregivers as part of the unit of care, Assessing the caregiver's situation and needs, Referring to appropriate services and resources, Educating about practical aspects of caregiving, and Supporting caregivers through bereavement. Additional trials are needed that are powered specifically for caregiver outcomes, use measures validated for advanced cancer caregivers, and test real-world interventions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bereavement*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*