Many caregivers of terminal cancer patients suffer depression and report regret and guilt from feeling they could have done more to eliminate side effects and relieve the pain.
So researchers from the nursing school at Case Western Reserve University devised and tested an intervention that quickly integrates a cancer support team to guide caregivers and their patients through difficult end-of-life treatment and decisions.
In the study, caregivers reported a high degree of satisfaction from having a team comprised of an advance practice nurse, social worker, a spiritual advisor and the patient's oncologist explain what was happening and why during the dying process.
The positive outcomes of having a support team inform and allow caregivers and their patients an opportunity to think through what was important and what actions to take as the disease progressed are reported in the July issue of Oncology Nursing Forum. The National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Cancer Institute (grant: NR018717) funded the study.
The intervention's support team got involved in end-of-life conversations with the patient and caregiver at the first diagnosis of a late-stage cancer.
In the past, many of those conversations started too lateódays or weeks before the patient died, said Sara Douglas, PhD, RN, associate professor at Case Western Reserve's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing and lead author.
"We owe it to the patients and caregivers to start earlier and think the choices through," said Douglas, who conducted the research with CWRU colleague and principal investigator, Barbara Daly, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor of nursing.
The measureable benefit to grieving families of having had access to comprehensive support prior to the death of their loved one reinforces the need to include families in cancer care, Douglas said. The researchers contend support services targeting psychosocial needs of patients and families should be incorporated as routine adjuncts to cancer-directed therapy, and that this type of team-oriented approach is an effective means to do so.
"The perception that the caregiver's loved one was well cared for can have long-term benefits in easing possible regrets that may occur after someone has died," Douglas said.
These findings will be shared with the oncology clinical community.
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