Caregiver characteristics and bereavement needs: Findings from a population study

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Abstract

Background:

Globally, most care for people with life-limiting illnesses is provided by informal caregivers. Identifying characteristics of caregivers that may have unmet needs and negative outcomes can help provide better support to facilitate adjustment.

Aim:

We compared characteristics, expressed unmet needs and outcomes for spousal caregivers, with other caregivers at the end of life, by gender and age.

Design:

The South Australian Health Omnibus is an annual, random, face-to-face, cross-sectional survey wherein respondents are asked about end-of-life care.

Setting/participants:

Participants were aged over 15 years, resided in households in South Australia and had someone close to them die from a terminal illness in the last 5 years.

Results:

Of the 1540 respondents who provided hands-on care for someone close at the end of life, 155 were widows/widowers. Bereaved spousal caregivers were more likely to be older, female, better educated, have lower incomes, less full-time work, English as second language, sought help with grief and provided more day-to-day care for longer periods. Spousal caregivers were less likely to be willing to take on caregiving again, less able to ‘move on’ with life and needed greater emotional support and information about illness and services. The only difference between widows and widowers was older age of spouse in women. Younger spousal caregivers perceived greater unmet emotional needs and were significantly less likely to be able to ‘move on’.

Conclusion:

Spousal caregivers are different from other caregivers, with more intense needs that are not fully met. These have implications for bereavement, health and social services.

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