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Open Access Research article

An organizing framework for informal caregiver interventions: detailing caregiving activities and caregiver and care recipient outcomes to optimize evaluation efforts

Courtney Harold Van Houtven12*, Corrine I Voils12 and Morris Weinberger3

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Excellence in Health Services Research and Development in Primary Care, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, NC, USA

2 Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center USA, Durham, 27710, NC, USA

3 Department of Health Policy and Administration, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA

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BMC Geriatrics 2011, 11:77  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-11-77

Published: 22 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Caregiver interventions may help improve the quality of informal care. Yet the lack of a systematic framework specifying the targets and outcomes of caregiver interventions hampers our ability to understand what has been studied, to evaluate existing programs, and to inform the design of future programs. Our goal was to develop an organizing framework detailing the components of the caregiving activities and the caregiver and care recipient outcomes that should be affected by an intervention. In so doing, we characterize what has been measured in the published literature to date and what should be measured in future studies to enable comparisons across interventions and across time.

Methods

Our data set comprises 121 reports of caregiver interventions conducted in the United States and published between 2000 and 2009. We extracted information on variables that have been examined as primary and secondary outcomes. These variables were grouped into categories, which then informed the organizing framework. We calculated the frequency with which the interventions examined each framework component to identify areas about which we have the most knowledge and under-studied areas that deserve attention in future research.

Results

The framework stipulates that caregiver interventions seek to change caregiving activities, which in turn affect caregiver and care recipient outcomes. The most frequently assessed variables have been caregiver psychological outcomes (especially depression and burden) and care recipient physical and health care use outcomes.

Conclusions

Based on the organizing framework, we make three key recommendations to guide interventions and inform research and policy. First, all intervention studies should assess quality and/or quantity of caregiving activities to help understand to what extent and how well the intervention worked. Second, intervention studies should assess a broad range of caregiver and care recipient outcomes, including considering whether expanding to economic status and health care use of the caregiver can be accommodated, to ease subsequent economic evaluations of caregiving. Third, intervention studies should measure a common set of outcomes to facilitate cross-time and cross-study comparisons of effectiveness.