Being a family carer to a patient nearing the end of their life is a challenging and confronting experience. Studies show that caregiving can have negative consequences on the health of family carers including fatigue, sleep problems, depression, anxiety and burnout. One of the goals of palliative care is to provide psychosocial support to patients and families facing terminal illness. A systematic review of interventions for family carers of cancer and palliative care patients conducted at the start of this millennium demonstrated that there was a dearth of rigorous inquiry on this topic and consequently limited knowledge regarding the types of interventions likely to be effective in meeting the complex needs of family carers. We wanted to discern whether or not the evidence base to support family carers has improved. Furthermore, undertaking this review was acknowledged as one of the priorities for the International Palliative Care Family Carer Research Collaboration http://www.centreforpallcare.org.
A systematic review was undertaken in order to identify developments in family carer support that have occurred over the last decade. The focus of the review was on interventions that targeted improvements in the psychosocial support of family carers of palliative care patients. Studies were graded to assess their quality.
A total of fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The focus of interventions included psycho-education, psychosocial support, carer coping, symptom management, sleep promotion and family meetings. Five studies were randomised controlled trials, three of which met the criteria for the highest quality evidence. There were two prospective studies, five pre-test/post-test projects and two qualitative studies.
The systematic review identified a slight increase in the quality and quantity of psychosocial interventions conducted for family carers in the last decade. More rigorous intervention research is required in order to meet the supportive care needs of family carers of palliative care patients.