Informal carers play a key role in supporting patients living with breathlessness in advanced disease, but with considerable impacts on their own well being. The purpose was to review recent advances in our understanding of the caring role in refractory breathlessness, its impacts on carers, and interventions to support them.
A systematic literature search resulted in 28 included articles that could be mapped to four broad areas of carer enquiry: the carer role (n = 6), role impact (n = 7), carer support (n = 11) and carer views (n = 4). Search terms focused on breathlessness, but few of the included articles were exclusively on breathlessness: most were disease-related, predominantly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There were a range of methodologies, including four systematic reviews; UK studies were most common.
Carers of patients with breathlessness take on a role characterized by uncertainty, largely unsupported by healthcare professionals (HCPs). HCP acknowledgement of these carers, their contribution and the impact of the caring role, is lacking. The patient–carer dyad should be considered the unit of care. Carer intervention should be individualized, supporting carers as clients and coworkers. There was a dearth of studies recruiting via primary care, focusing on conditions other than COPD and longitudinal work.
School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk, UK
Correspondence to Morag Farquhar, School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, Norfolk, UK. Tel: +44 01603 597649; e-mail: M.Farquhar@uea.ac.uk