An increasing number of cancer patients over the age of 70 years receive ambulatory chemotherapy as part of their treatment plan. These patients rely for much of their support needs related to their disease and treatment on informal caregivers. While these informal caregivers are crucial, there is limited evidence on their experiences and needs.
Inverstigate the experiences and needs of informal caregivers of older cancer patients with chemotherapy
As part of a larger mixed-methods study, semi-structured interviews with caregivers (n=19) of older cancer patients receiving chemotherapy at three clinics in Northeastern Switzerland were carried out. Data analyses was carried out using the Framework approach (Ritchie; 2007).
Twelve women (n = 8 spouse/partners & n = 4 daughters) and seven male spouse/partners were interviewed. “Facing the illness” was the main theme identified. Caregivers’ experiences were situated in a context broader than the immediate phase of chemotherapy treatment, with many caregivers recounting important experiences that shape their situation and needs from the time when the older person was first diagnosed. Three sub-themes emerged, i.e. “Keeping an eye on therapy and symptom management”; “Experiencing changes in own and communal life”; and “Engaging with death and dying” in which caregivers revealed a complex picture of experiences and needs emerging due to the caregiver role.
Informal caregivers of older cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment experience manifold psycho-emotional, spiritual, social and treatment/disease related challenges and have diverse needs. In order to support caregivers’ crucial role in providing support for the older person it is critical that the health care team treating the older person also addresses caregivers’ issues.