Informal caregiving to older cancer patients: preliminary research outcomes and implications

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BackgroundThe population of the Western world is aging while cancer survival rates are rising. Older patients with cancer will increasingly be taken care of by informal family caregivers. The current study describes levels of psychological distress, social support and coping abilities reported by partners who are caregivers to older patients with cancer (60+ years), comparing them to a control group of spouses of similarly aged people not suffering from life-threatening illness.Patients and MethodsTwo hundred sixteen partners who are primary caregivers of cancer patients aged 60+ were compared with 76 partners of healthy people aged 60+ and never diagnosed with any terminal illness. Participants completed self-reporting measures on psychological distress, coping ability and social support.ResultsCaregivers to cancer patients reported high levels of distress, low levels of social support and low levels of coping abilities which are negatively correlated to distress. Increased patient age was found to accentuate these processes.ConclusionAge and the progression of cancer as a chronic illness present the physician with the reality that focus of care should be on the dyad (patient and caregiver), with high priority given to partners who are informal caregivers.

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