Background: Heart failure is a complex cardiac syndrome prevalent in an older population. Caring for heart failure patients through the disease trajectory presents physical and emotional challenges for informal carers. Carers have to deal with clinically unstable patients, the responsibility of managing and titrating medication according to symptoms and frequent admissions to acute care. These challenges compound the demands on caregivers’ physical and psychosocial well-being. Alongside the negative impact of being a carer, positive aspects have also been demonstrated; carers describe feelings of shared responsibility of caring with professional carers and the reward of supporting a loved one, which creates a new role in their relationship.
Aim: This review explores the dimensions that impact caregiver burden and quality of life in carers of patients with heart failure and highlights both the negative and positive aspects of being an informal carer for heart failure patients.
Design: This review followed the processes recommended for a narrative review. Studies identified were selected systematically following the PRISMA guidelines.
Data sources: Searches were conducted using the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and keywords of the following search engines: MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Embase, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA), PsycINFO and Cochrane for literature published until January 2012.
Results: Quality assessment of the studies was conducted using quality indicators, and the studies included in this review were categorised as fair or good according to the criteria. Of the 1008 studies initially identified, 16 studies met the inclusion criteria. A thematic synthesis was undertaken, and the following themes were identified
Perceived carer control;
Mental and emotional well-being;
Types and impact of caregiving tasks;
Impact of patients’ physical condition;
Impact of age/gender/demographic factors;
Positive aspects of caregiving.
Conclusions: This review highlights evidence that informal carers supporting patients with heart failure face many challenges impacting their physical and mental well-being. The studies described provide an insight into the individual dimensions that make a carer particularly vulnerable, namely, younger carers, female carers and carers with existing physical and emotional health issues. Additionally, there are external influences that increase risk of burden, including New York Heart Association Score status of the patient, if the patient has had recurrent emergency admissions or has recently been discharged home and the level of social support available to the carer. A further finding from conducting this review is that there are still limited measures of the positive aspects of caregiving.