Caress, A.L., Chalmers, K., & Luker, K. (2009). A narrative review of interventions to support family carers who provide physical care to family members with cancer. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 46, 1516–1527.doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2009.03.008
To identify and critique studies of the development and/or evaluation of interventions to enable family carers to provide physical care to a family member with cancer
The number of studies initially reviewed was not reported.
After an initial search and crossing of search terms addressing physical (practical) care by carers of patients with cancer, the final tally of 19 studies met the following inclusion criteria: the study reported on an empirical study or program development; focused on carers of a family member with cancer; reported on the development and/or evaluation of an intervention to help carers provide physical care to a family member with cancer; and appeared in the literature between 1990 and June 2008. A critical consideration of article quality occurred by comparing articles to recommendations developed by three published authors, but formal quality scoring was not undertaken.
Initial search terms seemed to be too broad, overlapping, and perhaps unclear to initiate the study. The authors desired to distinguish between physical and psychosocial care of carers, but many studies blended the two types of care as interventions. Studies were not scored on quality of research design due to the authors’ desire to focus on the content of the interventions in a narrative review.
The authors found four categories of intervention that allowed family carers to provide physical/practical care of a family member with cancer (one study): (a) interventions that included skills training for the caregiver (nine studies), (b) interventions to improve care through managing symptoms (five studies), (c) interventions with a problem-solving focus, and (d) interventions with a learning focus (four studies).
The authors noted significant variability among included studies of terms defining the cancer experience (stage of cancer, point in cancer trajectory, type of cancer), specificity of the intervention, and measurement of distinct outcomes. This variability influenced the authors’ ability to interpret beneficial physical (practical) interventions for caregivers and patients. Furthermore, this variability, as well as limited article text that clearly specified the intervention, diminishes the ability to replicate those studies for further clarity on valuable caregiver interventions. The authors also admit to the complexity of dividing carer physical and psychosocial care for a family member with cancer, but believe such a division is important because of the limited literature on the physical role of carers.
The reality is that most carers learn “on the job” about ways to effectively care for a loved one. One might question the possible overlap of the four categories of interventions developed by the authors: they seem to address the urgent need for carer teaching and learning to meet both patient and carer needs. Realities in the United States (e.g., limited patient time with managed care, early patient discharge from acute agencies, push for more home care) may provide barriers to such teaching and assessment of carer learning. However, data from this narrative review support a mandate for nursing assessment of carer learning needs and then nursing follow-through to teach carers at each patient clinical encounter for the present cancer experience. With disease progression and even a changed carer/patient relationship, continued nursing assessment and teaching intervention can improve the quality of life for that carer/patient dyad. This review identifies a need for development and evaluation of well-defined interventions of practical skills. Given the range of needs of patients with cancer and carers, much of this work will need to address specific problems at particular points in the disease trajectory.