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Health Risk Factors in Caregivers of Terminal Cancer Patients: A Pilot Study

Corà, Alice MS; Partinico, Manuela MS; Munafò, Marianna PhD; Palomba, Daniela MD

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e31820d0c23

Background:  A large body of literature sustains the association between long-lasting caregiving for impaired significant others and increased health risk. Depression, elevated heart rate, and blood pressure at rest are key measures of health risk, mostly cardiovascular, which have been generally studied in caregivers of patients affected by dementia or chronic illness. Limited research has been conducted on emotional and cardiovascular impact of family caregiving for terminally ill cancer patients.

Objective: The aim of the present study was to examine psychological and cardiovascular responses in terminal cancer caregivers.

Methods: Twenty relative caregivers who provided in-home or hospice care to terminally ill cancer patients and 20 age- and gender-matched controls were interviewed and assessed for emotional distress. Measures of cardiovascular risk, blood pressure, and heart rate were recorded at rest in 4 separate sessions.

Results: Caregivers reported higher levels of depression, state anxiety, and more sleep dysfunctions than controls. They also revealed heightened systolic and diastolic blood pressure in some measurements. Moreover, elevation of heart rate was associated with caregiving length.

Conclusions: The caregiving stressor is associated with considerable psychological vulnerability, sleep disorders, and risk of alterations in the cardiovascular system, which seem to be modulated by caregiving characteristics.

Implications for Practice: This study shows the importance of screening caregivers for psychological as well as physical symptoms and disorders. An awareness of burden of terminal cancer caregivers could lead to timely proactive preventive interventions on their physical and mental health, to decrease negative outcomes.

Author Affiliations: Psychology Unit, San Bortolo Hospital, Vicenza (Mss Corà and Partinico); and Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Italy (Drs Munafò and Palomba).

There have been no funding sources in the present study.

Correspondence: Daniela Palomba, MD, Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia, 8, I-35131 Padova, Italy (

Accepted for publication December 22, 2010.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.