Summary: Patients newly diagnosed with incurable cancer are frequently overwhelmed with symptom burden, emotional distress, and other issues, which can interfere with immediate demands, such as decision-making about treatment. Their family caregivers also experience psychological symptoms upon learning of the loved one’s life-limiting illness, but, frequently, the health care system does not attend to their needs for preparation, support, and guidance. To gain insights into managing the news of incurable cancer diagnoses better, researchers explored the interdependent emotions and behaviors of caregiver-patient dyads. Self-report results indicated that patients had greater depressive symptoms than caregivers, as well as more depressive symptoms than non-patients in the community. Caregivers had greater anxiety symptoms than patients in the dyad and more anxiety symptoms than general members of the community. Interdependence of dyads’ psychiatric symptoms was reflected in the association of patients’ anxiety symptoms with their respective caregivers’ depressive symptoms, and vice versa—caregivers’ anxiety symptoms were associated with the patient’s depressive symptoms. The authors also noted that patients with non-spousal caregivers experienced greater depressive symptoms than patients with spousal caregivers. These findings identify risk factors for caregiver depression that could be ameliorated with intervention.

Citation: Jacobs JM, Shaffer KM, Nipp RD, Fishbein JN, MacDonald J, El-Jawahri A, Pirl WF, Jackson VA, Park ER, Temel JS, Greer JA. Distress is Interdependent in Patients and Caregivers with Newly Diagnosed Incurable Cancers. Ann Behav Med. 2017 Jan 17. PMID: 28097515