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Stress Over Children's Cancer Impacts Parents' Mental Health

Madison, Wisconsin - Parents caring for children with cancer have worse mental health, especially if their children face continuing treatment or limits on their activities.


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health surveyed the families of 75 children who had cancer or brain tumors to better understand the effects that the disease had on the caregiving parents and, by extension, the entire family.


They found that parents of children with brain cancer or tumors who were receiving active treatment had 11 percent lower quality of life than parents whose children were finished with treatment.


Parents of children with activity limitations had 9 percent lower quality of life than those who didn't have limitations. More than half of all parents reported difficulty sleeping.


Researchers found that stress played a significant role in these relationships. Parents of children with current treatment or activity limitations had higher levels of stress, which may have resulted in worse quality of life.


"This study reminds us of how important it is for parents to take care of themselves when they are caring for a child with cancer," says lead researcher Kristin Litzelman, a doctoral student in the Department of Population Health Sciences. "Managing stress, sleeping, and having support from other people may all help in keeping parents healthy."


Previous studies of caregiver stress showed that while most parents do really well, some continue to struggle and face a poorer quality of life. The study identified which parents are more likely to have difficulty: Those whose children face ongoing treatment and limits on their activities.


"If doctors know that their patient has a child getting cancer treatment or who has an activity limitation, they may be better able to follow these parents and help them find resources they need," Litzelman adds.


"Interventions tailored towards these parents might also help reduce their burden, which could help improve their quality of life in the long term."


The research team included Whitney Witt, assistant professor of population health sciences; Kris Catrine, assistant professor of pediatrics and Ronald Gangnon, assistant professor of biostatistics and medical informatics.


The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the UW-Madison Waisman Center, the UW Carbone Cancer Center and the UW Care for Kids Foundation. It has been published in the journal Quality of Life Research and is available online.

Date Published: 02/09/2011

News tag(s):  researchcancerpsychiatrypediatrics

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Stress Over Children's Cancer Impacts Parents' Mental Health

Last updated: 03/14/2014
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