A program that teaches problem-solving and coping skills can help family caregivers caring for terminally ill patients handle stress. Researchers studied 354 family caregivers of patients with cancer in a community hospice program. They divided the caregivers and their patients into three groups, which received the following services:
* standard hospice care
* standard hospice care plus three visits from a nurse and home health aide for emotional support
* standard hospice care plus three visits in which the caregivers were taught coping skills.
Compared with caregivers in the first two groups, those in the third group reported more improvements in quality of life. Caregivers in group three were less stressed by signs and symptoms of advancing cancer and by their caregiving duties than those in the other two groups.
The researchers say that teaching coping skills to caregivers is more beneficial than simply providing emotional support. Teaching family caregivers how to help manage pain, shortness of breath, and other common end-of-life symptoms also helps relieve their feelings of helplessness.
The program tested was based on a similar program that's helped family members caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Impact of coping skills intervention with family caregivers of hospice patients with cancer, Cancer, SC McMillan, et al., January 1, 2006.