Caring With Confidence: Study Examines Caregiver Mastery and Patient Survival in GBM


A recent study found that the level of family caregiver mastery may have an effect on the survival of patients with glioblastoma.

When patients receive a diagnosis such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) they will often seek out treatment from the best possible cancer center that is available to them. While building a team of skilled doctors, nurses and other health care providers can be beneficial, having a solid team of family caregivers may be just as important, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Michigan State University.

The study examined 164 newly-diagnosed patients with GBM and their caregivers in an attempt to see if caregivers’ depression, anxiety and mastery of caregiving had an effect on patients’ survival.

Patients and their caregivers were assessed at three months from diagnosis (baseline) then again at four, eight and 12 months out. As per standard protocol, 85 percent of patients were treated with postoperative chemotherapy and radiotherapy. About three-fourths of patients were being cared for by their spouses.

“Caregivers’ level of mastery, which can be defined as the feeling of being in control of the care situation, can influence the amount of distress perceived by family caregivers,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, mastery has shown to have a significant effect on the amount of distress reported by the family caregiver as a result of providing care in neuro-oncology and in other caring populations.”

The median overall survival rate for the patients was 14.5 months, and about half of the patients (46 percent) were alive at the 12-month assessment mark.

Caregivers in the study ranked their mastery by determining, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree), how in-control they felt in their role. They were then ranked into three categories: low, moderate or high level of mastery. With each increase in ranking, researchers saw a 14 percent reduced risk of the patient dying sooner.

“The neurological and cognitive symptoms experienced by patients with GBM represent unique challenges to their family caregivers,” the study says.

A GBM diagnosis can be extremely anxiety-inducing for both the patient and the caregiver. The study cites previous research that noted that caregiver emotional health can impact the quality of care that they offer.

After examining anxiety, depression and caregiver burden, researchers also found that there was a 7.9 percent increase in the probability of the patient dying sooner each point decrease in caregiver self-esteem. However, it should be noted that this correlation was not statistically significant.

The researchers agree that more research needs to be done in this area to better confirm their findings, and more support should be offered to family caregivers, especially as improving their mastery can lead to increased survival and better quality of life for patients with GBM.

“Providing neuro-oncology caregivers with more structured support and guidance in clinical practice might be enough to empower them and lower their levels of distress, thus influencing patients’ health for the better,” the authors wrote.

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