Aim: The overall aim is to generate knowledge about consequences of informal caregiving for the family members of patients diagnosed with advanced cancer, over a one-year period, including the family members’ health, health-related quality of life, health care utilization, and associated costs. Furthermore, the family members’ management of their stressful daily life and the meanings of social support networks in the early stage will be explored in order to get deeper understanding.
Method: The thesis is based on two quantitative prospective studies (I–II) and two qualitative cross-sectional studies (III–IV). Studies I–II involved data from the same study group of 36 family members to relative with cancer. Use was made of questionnaires about sociodemographic characteristics, informal caregiving, leisure activities and absence from work (Study I), also of the Short Form 36 Health Survey (SF–36) and EuroQol (EQ–5D) (Study II), during a 1-year period starting 3 months after diagnosis. Study I also included a telephone interview and a review of medical records. Twenty family members were interviewed in Study III, 17 in Study IV; and the interviews were subjected to latent content analysis.
Results: The findings indicate that family members’ informal caregiving influence the risk of morbidity with increased health care utilization and lower health-related quality of life the year following the diagnosis. The number of hours spent giving the patients was highest in respect of emotional support. If professional caregivers as home help care assistants had provided the support, it would be equivalent to a cost of 327,000 SEK per 15 months. The medical records indicated increased morbidity with increased health service use (physician consultations), more psychiatric disorders and more musculoskeletal diseases during the follow-up period (Study I). No statistically significant differences in health-related quality of life (HRQOL) were found within the study group over the 1-year follow-up in either physical or mental dimensions. However, the family members did have mental HRQOL scores significantly lower than the norm-based ones as measured throughout the year by SF–36. In addition, results showed that older age and being a partner had a negative influence on HRQOL (Study II). Management employed by family members during the early stage after patient diagnosis was expressed by the theme Striving to be prepared for the painful, based on emotion-focused strategies except the problem-focused strategy to ‘Making things easier in everyday life’ both for the sick person and for themselves (Study III). The meaning of the social support network was expressed by the theme Confirmation through togetherness, covering emotional and, to a lesser extent, instrumental support. Confirmation through togetherness derived principally from information, understanding, encouragement, involvement and spiritual community. Need of support, Desire for a deeper relationship with relatives and Network to turn to were identified as antecedents to social support. Social support involves reciprocal exchange of verbal and non-verbal information (Study IV).
Conclusions: The results of this thesis provide knowledge of family members’ risk of morbidity, which motivates developing guidelines for preventing both physical and mental morbidity. Developing valid measurement of the meaning of social support network for the individual patient could encourage nurses and other health-care professionals to focus on family members’ personal networks as a way to strengthen their mental health.
Jönköping: School of Health Sciences , 2012. , 90 p.
2012-11-30, Sal: Originalet, Qulturumhuset, Hus B, Länssjukhuset Ryhov, Jönköping, 13:00 (English)