In home-based hospice, family caregivers (FCGs) provide 24/7 care, including patient symptom management and emotional support, while simultaneously managing their own distress and the physical demands of caregiving. Advanced cancer hospice patients often face a much more rapid decline than other hospice patients, and as death approaches, both care demands and caregiver stress increase. FCGs of cancer hospice patients frequently report feeling unprepared for their role and express the need for more information and support. When FCG needs go unaddressed, cancer patient care may be compromised and FCG quality of life and emotional well-being are negatively impacted. The hospice care team (HCT) is designed to inform and support families as integral team members, and to provide high quality care and effective communication aligned to meet specific patient and family needs. However, our work and that of others indicate FCGs of hospice cancer patients are reluctant to voice concerns, and HCTs often do not recognize the critical role of FCGs, failing to fully address their concerns. The dynamic change in patient and family needs during care and the response of the entire interdisciplinary team has been largely neglected in research to date. Further, there is little work on the long term impact of hospice care and FCGs' bereavement adjustment. We propose to address these gaps by evaluating HCTs' responsiveness in terms of timely alignment to hospice FCGs' daily needs and assessing the impact of these interactions on FCG outcomes. Leveraging the resources of the Palliative Care Research Cooperative and our team's previous research experience, we will conduct a multi- site, multi-method prospective longitudinal study in which we systematically monitor the daily fluctuation of FCGs needs. Using an automated telecommunication system, 120 FCGs will rate patient and FCG symptom burden, and FCG anxiety, depression, positive affect, and spiritual wellbeing. We will then use a novel approach to assess HCT responsiveness to these needs, we will analyze ongoing alignment of FCG-HCT communication during home visits and phone calls. Mean level and rate of change of FCG-HCT alignment will be assessed to predict FCG post-patient death outcomes at 2 and 6 months post death, including psychological adjustment, burden, health status, and satisfaction with care. Finally, we propose to capture FCGs' daily experiences with hospice care through audio diaries to determine how/whether their perceptions map onto objective measures and interpersonal communication patterns with the HCT. Instead of examining the hospice care process through a more traditional lens in a one time-encounter, this project will be the first to assess the complex clinical reality of hospice care by capturing FCG daily needs and the response of each member of the team over the course of care to assess impact on FCG outcomes. The long term goal of this project is to inform future clinical interventions by identifying specific family-centered HCT processes that are linked to improved FCG outcomes.
Hospice family caregivers of cancer patients provide 24/7 care and report multiple unmet needs despite the hospice team members' efforts to inform and support them. When caregiver needs go unaddressed, cancer patient care may be compromised and family caregiver quality of life and emotional well-being are negatively impacted. This project will evaluate hospice care teams' responsiveness to family caregiver daily needs and assess impact for family caregivers' long term adjustment. The study findings will inform future clinical interventions by identifying specific family-centered hospice care team processes that are critical for FCG benefit.