In studies looking at post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in caregivers and partners of people with cancer, 4% of caregivers experienced PTSD, and one third of partners experienced traumatic symptoms. Despite the significant psychological impact of caring, caregivers might not seek required treatment, with reporting that almost half of cancer caregivers who met diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric condition did not seek treatment for it.
Caregivers at increased risk of anxiety or depression:
- Are predominantly younger and female.
- Report lower socioeconomic status or education.
- Live with the patient are the spouses, rather than the children, of the patient or report poor relationship quality with the patient.
- Are unmarried or in shorter-term marriages.
- Report high levels of unmet needs for supportive care.
- Report comorbidities or more unhealthy behavior.
- Use avoidant coping.
- Feel less prepared for caregiving or confident in their abilities.
- Are caring for patients that are older, are at a later disease stage, have symptoms, and report poorer physical functioning.
- Have high caregiving demand and report higher intensity of care.
- Report lower levels of social support.
Impact on Social Activities and Relationships
Several studies have reported that caregiving disrupts social connectedness and activities as caregivers’ energy and time are focused on the patient and their recovery. Almost half of caregivers have no time for themselves. The main concern here is that caregivers of people with cancer who have limited social networks and more restrictions in their daily activities are more likely to report caregiver burden.
The significant toll that a cancer diagnosis takes on a relationship is more and more understood. Even high-functioning couples may struggle to manage the stress and challenges of cancer, as well as changes in their relationships brought on by the cancer diagnosis. Such stress might lead to tension and conflict within the couple.
Despite the physical, social, and emotional burden of care, respite services are not well utilized by caregivers. Some patients and caregivers do not access specialist services because of the emotional difficulties in discussing death and dying.
Impact on Financial and Work Status
Caregiving creates a financial burden for family members, both in outright expenses and in lost income and benefits.
Caregiving also appears to reduce a person’s chance of being employed, and many caregivers are unable to work, need to take leave without pay, have fewer work hours, are in lower paid jobs, or work from home to manage the caregiver demands. Reduction in paid work also contributed to social isolation. Long-term financial impacts of caregiving include loss of savings for retirement.
POSITIVE IMPACT OF CARE GIVINGTop of Form
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While caregivers report experiencing surprise, shock, disbelief, anger, distress, fear, and depression in response to a cancer diagnosis, they also felt that caring for a person with cancer is an experience that can produce positive emotions. In one Australian study, 60% of caregivers were able to identify positive aspects of their role. When patients’ symptoms were minor, the time together was described very emotively as “precious time,” which allowed the exploration of emotions and expression of love for the patient. Happiness over quality time spent with the patient, the ability to explore and resolve issues, and feelings of value and self-worth have all been reported by caregivers. In addition, it has been suggested that caring for the patient may help caregivers to accept the death of the patient and work through their grief.