What factors are associated with informal carers’ psychological morbidity during end-of-life home care? A systematic review and thematic synthesis of observational quantitative studies

Tracey Shield, Kerin Bayliss, Alexander Hodkinson, Maria Panagioti, Alison Wearden, Jackie Flynn, Christine Rowland, Penny Bee, Morag Farquhar, Danielle Harris, Gunn Grande

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Family carers are central in supporting patients nearing end–of-life (EOL). As a consequence they often suffer detrimental impacts on their own mental health. Understanding what factors may affect carers’ mental health is important in developing strategies to maintain their psychological wellbeing during caregiving.
Aim: To conduct a systematic review and thematic evidence synthesis of factors related to carers’ mental health during EOL caregiving.
Method: Searches of Medline, CINAHL, PsychINFO, Social Sciences Citation Index, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) 01.01.2009-24.11.2019. We included observational quantitative studies focusing on adult informal/ family carers for adult patients at EOL cared for at home considering any factor related to carer mental health (anxiety, depression, distress and quality of life) pre-bereavement. Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale was used. Thematic analysis with box score presentation and meta-analysis were done where data permitted.

Results: Findings from 63 included studies underpinned seven emergent themes.
1) Patient condition (31 studies): worse patient psychological symptoms and quality of life were generally associated with worse carer mental health. Patient depression was associated with higher depression in carers (SMD=0.59, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.87, I2=77%). Patients’ other symptoms and functional impairment may relate to carer mental health, but findings were unclear.
2) Impact of caring responsibilities (14 studies): impact on carers’ lives, task difficulty and general burden had clear associations with worse carer mental health.
3) Relationships (8 studies): family dynamics and the quality of the carer-patient relationship may be important for carer mental health and are worthy of further investigation.
4) Finance (6 studies): insufficient resources may relate to carers’ mental health and warrant further study.
5) Carers’ psychological processes (13 studies): self-efficacy and preparedness were related to better mental health. However, findings regarding coping strategies were mixed.
6) Support (18 studies): informal support given by family and friends may relate to better carer mental health, but evidence on formal support is limited. Having unmet needs was related to worse mental health, while satisfaction with care was related to better mental health.
7) Contextual factors (16 studies): older age was generally associated with better carer mental health, and being female with worse mental health.

Limitations: Studies were mainly cross-sectional (56) rather than longitudinal (7) which raises questions about the likely causal direction of relationships. One third of studies had samples <100, so many had limited statistical power to identify existing relationships.
Conclusions and future work: Future work must adopt a comprehensive approach to improving carers’ mental health, because factors relating to carer mental health cover a broad spectrum. The literature on this topic is diverse and difficult to summarise, and the field would benefit from a clearer direction of enquiry guided by explanatory models. Future research should (1) further investigate quality of relationships and finances; (2) better define factors under investigation; (3) establish, through quantitative causal analyses, why factors might relate to mental health; (4) utilise longitudinal designs more to aid understanding of likely causal direction of associations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth and Social Care Delivery Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2023


  • Carers
  • Psychological morbidity
  • systematic review
  • end of life
  • observational data


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