Advanced age and cancer as a comorbidity are independent risk factors for adverse outcomes from COVID-19 infection. We hypothesised that caring for a person receiving cancer treatment would be associated with high carer stress.
Carers of older (age >65) patients of an Australian community oncology clinic were invited to participate in a prospective survey during the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey domains comprised five aspects: patient characteristics, living situation, Modified Caregiver Strain Index (mCSI) (3-point Likert scale), adaptation to situation containing open free-text questions, and satisfaction with telemedicine. mCSI scores were compared between groups of carers based on chemotherapy receipt by the person receiving care (unpaired t-test; significance demonstrated by p<0.05).
The study opened on 27th April 2020. As of 12th July 2020, 16 surveys were completed. 14/16 people being cared for were on at least one active treatment at time(12 chemotherapy, 2 immunotherapy, 1 targeted therapy, 5 supportive therapy). 14 carers lived with their care recipient, with the other two visiting at least weekly. 15 participants completed mCSI; mean was 6.2 (standard deviation 4.3; range 1-16). 4 carers scored 10 or above; these were all live-in carers for patients on active treatment including chemotherapy, although an association between systemic treatment and higher mCSI scores did not reach significance (p=0.39). 13/15 carers reported having internet access, and 4/15 were somewhat or very uncomfortable with using internet-based applications for either communication or information gathering. 7/16 had participated in telemedicine.
High caregiver strain was evident amongst some carers of cancer patients during COVID-19 but was not significantly associated with receipt of systemic treatment by the person receiving care. Over half had participated in telemedicine consultations.