Background The purpose of this study was to quantify the cancer support activities that informal carers of head and neck cancer survivors engage in and the relationships between care activities (how comfortable they feel engaging in these tasks and the time that carers spend on these tasks) and psychological wellbeing.
Methods This study formed part of project that investigated the post-treatment needs of survivors of head and neck cancer in Ireland.
A total of 197 caregivers answered a survey detailing their caring activities, the amount of time that they spent on those activities and how comfortable they felt engaging in them. Psychological wellbeing was assessed by the DASS-21.
Multiple logistic regression was used to identify whether aspects of caregiving burden (time and discomfort with one or more head and neck cancer specific tasks) were associated with depression, anxiety and stress, after adjusting for other factors. All analysis was performed using Stata 12.
Results In the past month, 45% of carers did not spend any extra hours per week helping their relative/friend with general activities; 31% spent 1–19 h/week and 23% spent 20 or more hours/week doing so. Most carers were comfortable assisting their relative/friend, though more carers felt uncomfortable assisting with cancer specific support tasks (31% uncomfortable helping with medication) compared with general support tasks (7% uncomfortable helping with appointments).
In the multivariable analysis the factors significantly associated with having any depression after adjusting for age were: feeling uncomfortable helping with one or more head and neck cancer care tasks OR 6.5 (95% CI [2.2, 19.5]) and being female OR 2.6 (95% CI [0.97, 7.24]). Protective factors were: having private health insurance OR 0.44 (95% CI [0.2, 0.98]) and caring for someone diagnosed 10 years or more ago OR 0.15 (95% CI [0.03, 0.69]).
Discussion The findings indicate that it is important that health professionals pay particular attention to carers of people with head and neck cancer who are at risk of poor mental health, such as those with financial issues, those who are older and those with higher burden of care.
Healthcare professionals might be able to supply some carers with the support and training that they need to address their discomfort.
- carer burden
- head and neck cancer