Providing Support for Caregivers

Caregivers who are caring for loved ones with cancer may have more to worry about than managing their emotions.

Research published Jan. 15, 2015 in Cancer, which assessed 1,517 people who were caring for cancer patients, found that those who reported feeling the most overwhelmed by their caregiving responsibilities had the highest levels of stress—and were more likely to go on to develop heart disease years later.  The study provided follow-up assessments at two-years, five-years and eight-years after the patient’s initial cancer diagnosis.

The research suggests that spouses who were caregivers had a greater likelihood of developing other physical ailments, such as arthritis or chronic back pain, than other caregivers—no matter their age.

Cancer Today, a magazine published by the American Association for Cancer Research for cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors, explored this research and the need for more caregiver support programs in its Spring 2015 issue. The article explores a program at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California and a new web-based tool being developed with the American Cancer Society at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York that address the needs of cancer caregivers.

Youngmee Kim, a psychologist at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, who led the study, says that although there are more programs for family caregivers these days, many of them focus primarily on helping caregivers manage the patient’s symptoms, and not on the caregiver’s own needs.  Her research shows that caregivers need more follow-up.

To provide support, Cancer Today publishes a regular column, “Caregiving With Confidence,” which explores ways to overcome caregiving challenges, such as providing care for a loved one at home and being kind to yourself while you’re helping.

Patient advocacy organizations also provide various resources, including online webinars and one-on-one phone and in-person consultations. Some cancer-specific caregiving support organizations include CancerCare and Help for Cancer Caregivers.