Effects of Caregiving Status and Changes in Depressive Symptoms on Development of Physical Morbidity Among Long-Term Cancer Caregivers

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Abstract

Objective: Cancer caregiving burden is known to vary across the survivorship trajectory and has been linked with caregivers’ subsequent health impairment. Little is known, however, regarding how risk factors during long-term survivorship relate to vulnerability to caregivers’ health during that period. This study examined effects of caregiving status and depressive symptoms on development of physical morbidity by 5 years postdiagnosis. Method: Family caregivers (N = 491; Mage = 55.78) completed surveys at 2 (Time 1 [T1]) and 5 years (T2) after their care recipients’ cancer diagnosis. Demographic and caregiving context variables known to affect caregivers’ health were assessed at T1. Self-reported depressive symptoms and a list of physical morbid conditions were assessed at T1 and T2. Caregiving status (former, current, or bereaved) was assessed at T2. Results: Hierarchical negative binomial regression revealed that current caregivers at T2 (p = .02), but not those bereaved by T2 (p = .32), developed more physical morbid conditions between T1 and T2 compared with former caregivers, controlling for other variables. Independently, caregivers reporting either newly emerging or chronically elevated depressive symptoms at T2 (ps < .03), but not those whose symptoms remitted at T2 (p = .61), showed greater development of physical morbidity than did those reporting minimal depressive symptoms at both T1 and T2. Conclusions: Results highlight the roles of long-term caregiving demands and depressive symptoms in cancer caregivers’ premature physical health decline. Clinical attention through the long-term survivorship trajectory should be emphasized for caregivers of patients with recurrent or prolonged illness and to address caregivers’ elevated depressive symptoms.

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