Due to delivery of chemotherapy being mostly in ambulatory care settings, support of people with cancer relies heavily on caregivers (e.g. relatives). Whilst cancer caregiver research has been flourishing, there has been little focus on the specific experiences of caregivers of older people (>70yrs) with cancer, and little considerations of cultural influences on their experiences. This study explored caregiver experiences and outcomes in the geriatric oncology context in Switzerland.
Sequential mixed-methods design, comprising a) cross-sectional survey (n = 86/RR52%; age range 37-85) and b) interviews (n = 19) to explore experiences of caregivers of older people (mean age in yrs 74.6 (sd 4.3) with cancer, and factors related to caregivers’ psychological morbidity and health related quality of life (HrQoL).
Caregivers reported a median of three moderate/high unmet needs (range 0-41) and 44% reported clinically significant psychological morbidity. Demographics (caregiver age, gender, and marital status), caregiving tasks (physical, psycho-emotional, social and/or treatment related care), unmet needs and caregiver burden collectively explained between 20 and 57% of variance in caregiver psychological morbidity and HRQoL. Two main themes emerged from interviews: “Being a caregiver and doing caregiving” and “Living through the situation.” These indicated that caregiver roles are multiple and fluid, and identified responsibilities not previously reported outside of palliative care settings, such as thinking about and planning for death and dying.
Caregiving for an older person with cancer can have detrimental impacts on caregivers’ wellbeing and quality of life. Consideration needs to be given to the particular needs of caregivers in geriatric oncology settings. Their support needs appear different to those of their counterparts caring for younger people with cancer, notably related to spiritual needs; this may in part relate to possible differences arising from caregivers themselves being older.

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